Running down the rosters: Seattle Mariners

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The Mariners have finished in last place in the AL West six of the last eight years, and while their is a shining ray of hope on the way in 2013 in the form of the Astros, they’re going to have a tough time not making it seven of nine years this season.

Rotation
Felix Hernandez – R
Jason Vargas – L
Hisashi Iwakuma – R
Kevin Millwood – R
Hector Noesi – R

Bullpen
Brandon League – R
Shawn Kelley – R
George Sherrill – L
Hong-Chih Kuo – L
Tom Wilhelmsen – R
Shawn Camp – R
Cesar Jimenez – L

SP next in line: Blake Beavan (R), Charlie Furbush (L), Danny Hultzen (L), James Paxton (L)
RP next in line: Aaron Heilman (R), Josh Kinney (R), Chance Ruffin (R), Steve Delabar (R), Lucas Luetge (L)(Rule 5), Oliver Perez (L)

Faith in their ability to develop pitching (and turn reclamation projects into third and fourth starters) led to the Mariners’ trade of Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. They still have plenty of pitching depth, but the club will likely be without a legitimate No. 2 starter until someone from the Hultzen-Paxton-Taijuan Walker group emerges. In the meantime, the Mariners figure to get solid pitching, but that’s simply not good enough given the state of their offense.

Lineup
3B Chone Figgins – S
2B Dustin Ackley – L
RF Ichiro Suzuki – L
1B Justin Smoak – S
LF Mike Carp – L
DH Jesus Montero – R
C Miguel Olivo – R
CF Franklin Gutierrez – R
SS Brendan Ryan – R

Bench
C John Jaso – L
INF Carlos Guillen – S
INF Munenori Kawasaki – L
OF Casper Wells – R

Next in line: C Adam Moore (R), INF Luis Rodriguez (S), 3B Kyle Seager (L), 3B Alex Liddi (R), 3B-OF Vinnie Catricala (R), OF Trayvon Robinson (S), OF Michael Saunders (L), OF Carlos Peguero (L), OF Darren Ford (R), OF Mike Wilson (R)

That’s not the lineup I would use, but I’m not being consulted. In my mind, Seager’s left-handed bat is exactly what the right-handed-heavy bottom of the order needs. In going with Figgins at third base and in the leadoff spot, all of the lefties and switch-hitters are getting stacked in a row. The Mariners could bat Montero fourth or fifth instead of sixth — flip-flopping him and Smoak makes more sense than the current arrangement — but I don’t know that they’re going to want to put that much pressure on him initially.

While the starting nine appears set, the bench does have some question marks. The Mariners could carry Seager if they think they’d have enough playing time available for him. It’ll probably come down to him and Guillen for one spot and to Kawasaki and Rodriguez for the other. Seager has some experience at shortstop, but the Mariners will likely want to carry a true backup middle infielder. Wells is the heavy favorite to serve as the backup outfielder. He should start over Carp in left field against lefties.

The offense will almost certainly be improved this year, probably by a substantial margin, but there’s just so much ground to make up. The Mariners scored 556 runs last year. The other 13 AL teams averaged 735 runs. Montero’s arrival, full seasons from Ackley and Carp and a rebound from Ichiro will all help, but it’s unlikely to really start coming together for the Mariners before 2013.

Braves clinch postseason spot with 10-1 win over Nationals

Dansby Swanson
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The Braves clinched a postseason berth with Saturday’s 10-1 win over the Nationals. Now, the only question is whether they’ll get there with an NL East division title or via one of two wild card spots currently up for grabs.

Granted, things are looking pretty good on the division title front. After losing their second straight game to the Braves, the Nationals sit 10.5 games back of first place in the NL East, and every other division rival is at least 15 games out. The Braves, meanwhile, carry a magic number of four; should they clinch, it’ll be their 19th franchise title and 14th since they migrated to the East division in 1994.

They certainly looked like postseason contenders on Saturday. Mike Foltynewicz led the charge with six innings of one-run, five-strikeout ball, limiting the Nationals to four hits while rookie right-hander Austin Voth kept the Braves scoreless through 5 2/3 frames. Things started to tip in Atlanta’s favor in the sixth inning: Nick Markakis put the team on the board with an RBI single, and a four-run breakout in the seventh helped cement a sizable lead. Over the last three innings, the Braves found opportunity after opportunity against the Nationals’ bullpen, capitalizing on walks, throwing errors, and productive outs as they climbed toward a double-digit finish.

The win didn’t come without some sacrifice, however. The Braves lost Charlie Culberson to a facial injury after he was struck by a Fernando Rodney fastball in the seventh inning, and they’ll likely be without him for the remainder of the regular season — pending a formal diagnosis, of course. Culberson’s loss isn’t the only one the club is feeling right now, either, as Johan Camargo ended his season with a hairline fracture in his right shin and Freddie Freeman is playing through a minor bout of elbow soreness after making an early exit from Friday’s 5-0 shutout.