2013 Preview: Seattle Mariners

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Are the Mariners finally on the right track?

Absolutely. After some bad high payroll teams a few years ago and then some trades which didn’t exactly inspire, it does now seem like the Mariners have a plan going forward.

They locked up Felix Hernandez. There is a young core which, admittedly, could go either way right now, but it is still a young core with upside: Hernandez, Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager. Tons of good arms on the farm including  Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, which will either contribute in Seattle or serve as the basis for deals for offense at some point over the next couple of years.

There is a bright future in Seattle based on a lot of solid young players. It’s just not the kind of future likely to arrive earlier than expected due to none of them really being off-the-charts impact-type players. But unlike we’ve seen in the past, there are things to be hopeful for with the Mariners now. And that’s good, yes?

What else is going on?

  • Has anyone gotten rich cornering the market on designated hitters? Because boy howdy do the Mariners have a lot of DH types:  Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Jesus Montero and Jason Bay are all gonna break camp with this team. I mean, sure, those are all famous-to-sorta-famous baseball players, but how, exactly, is this supposed to work?
  • Moving the fences in at Safeco Field — a home run to left center is now 17 feet closer than it was before — will be worth watching. It may bother the pitchers a bit, but one wonders if part of the reason for this is to get Seattle out of that rut where they can’t sign any power hitting free agents thanks to the perception that their offense will up and die. If Mike Morse suddenly goes off for 35 homers, does that not send a signal to others that Seattle — in a state with no state income tax — may be a nice place to land?
  • The Mariners have also cornered the market on Saunderses. Michael and Joe Saunders, that is. Michael flashed some pop last year and could be something of a breakout candidate. He stole 21 bases too. One of those players who, because he plays in Seattle, people rarely notice. But he’s worth watching. Joe Saunders turned in his best season in years in 2012, based on a hot final couple of months. I wouldn’t bet on him carrying it all over or anything, but given all the arms the Mariners have hanging around he could be an attractive trade chit at the break if he pitches well.
  • Call it a petty thing or even slam on the M’s, but there has to be some moral victory involved in not finishing in last place this year, right? I mean, no matter what happens, they’ll stay out of the cellar by virtue of the Houston Astros, yes?

So how are they gonna do?

Better. But still not enough juice to pass up Oakland, Texas or Anaheim. Fourth place, AL West. But Fourth place with a bullet.

Manoah, Merrifield lead Blue Jays to 3-1 win over Rays

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Alek Manoah pitched seven shutout innings, Whit Merrifield hit a three-run homer and the Toronto Blue Jays regained the top AL wild-card spot with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night.

The Blue Jays lead Tampa Bay by one game. The top wild card finisher will host all games in their best-of-three opening-round series, while the other two wild cards play strictly on the road.

Manoah (15-7) scattered four hits, walked two and struck out eight while throwing a season-high 113 pitches. The righty worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth by striking out Randy Arozarena and getting a flyout from David Peralta.

Jordan Romano replaced Tim Mayza with two on and two outs in the eighth and allowed pinch-hitter Harold Ramirez‘s RBI infield single but avoided further damage by striking out Manuel Margot. Romano finished the game to get his 35th save in 41 chances.

Tampa Bay starter Drew Rasmussen (10-7) gave up one run, three hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out five.

The teams combined for 31 runs, with the Rays accounting for 20, in the first two games of the series that were both won by Tampa Bay.

Arozarena got the Rays’ first hit off Manoah with a two-out double in the fourth. He became the first Tampa Bay player and 20th big leaguer to have 40 doubles, 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season.

Teoscar Hernandez ended Rasmussen’s night with a double in the seventh. Brooks Raley entered and, after a walk to pinch-hitter Danny Jansen, Merrifield made it 3-0 on his 10th homer of the season.

Merrifield homered twice in Thursday night’s 10-5 loss to the Rays.

Alejandro Kirk opened the second with a single before Rasmussen retired 12 in a row until Merrifield’s leadoff double in the sixth.

Plate umpire Corey Blaser took a hard foul ball by Margot on the mask in the eighth but remained in the game.

HONORING KK

The Rays posted a thank you on the message board for CF Kevin Kiermaier, who is out for the season following left hip surgery. Kiermaier is in the final season of a $53.5 million, six-year contract that includes a club option for 2023 that is expected to be declined.

TEAM AWARDS

Rays ace Shane McClanahan was voted the Don Zimmer MVP award winner by members of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. CF Jose Siri was selected as the outstanding rookie. 3B Yandy Diaz received the Paul C. Smith Champions award as the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (lat strain) allowed three runs and three hits over two-thirds of an inning for Triple-A Buffalo.

Rays: 2B Brandon Lowe (lower back) is done for the season.

UP NEXT

McClanahan (12-6), pulled from his start Tuesday in the fifth inning due to neck tightness, will face Blue Jays RHP Ross Stripling (8-4) on Sunday.