For day three of my Spring Training Astros competition scouting reports, I traveled to Mesa, Arizona to watch the Seattle Mariners take on the Chicago Cubs. But before I recap the game and assess the Mariners, here are the scouting reports that I wrote on the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics:
Mariners versus Cubs
On my third and final day in Arizona, I was treated to an offensive showcase between the youthful Chicago Cubs and the re-tooled Seattle Mariners at the newest Cactus League stadium, Sloan Park. If you ever go to Spring Training, I would highly suggest this stadium, as it has the feel of Wrigley Field in Chicago along with a contemporary style that matches most Spring Training ballparks. Also, those Cubs fans sure do love baseball. The stadium was mostly full when I arrived an hour before opening pitch, and there were even fans tailgating by their cars outside! I can’t say that I’ve ever seen tailgating at a baseball game, much less a spring training game. It was awesome.
On to the baseball. I was in for a treat as I got to see one of Felix Hernandez‘s few spring training starts, and was bummed to hear that Jon Lester was scratched from his start a few hours before the game began. Having paid very little attention to the Mariners’ moves this past offseason, I was shocked when I saw their starting lineup. The top of the order had Austin Jackson as the leadoff man, followed by Rickie Weeks and Robinson Cano, with Nelson Cruz hitting cleanup. The only starters that Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon sat out were Kyle Seager, Seth Smith, and Dustin Ackley.
Much to my surprise, the game was an absolute slugfest, finishing with a final score of 12-10 in favor of the Cubs. Some offensive highlights for the Mariners were a moonshot (400+ ft.) by Nelson Cruz in the top of the 3rd inning to straightaway center field that scored Cano, an RBI double by Logan Morrison in the top of the 4th off of Blake Parker, and a 2-RBI double by Brad Miller (who also had a sac fly in the game) in the top of the 6th. McClendon pulled his starters after the 6th, and the only other scoring from Seattle came from a three-run home run by prospect Austin Wilson in the top of the 8th.
Comparing Seattle’s Lineup to the Astros
The 2015 Mariners should have an improved lineup from 2014. It will definitely be tough for Astros pitching, as it includes two of the league’s best sluggers, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz. Also, when you add Kyle Seager, a 2014 All Star who hit 25 home runs last season, there’s a formidable middle of the order. In the game that I watched, SS Brad Miller hit 9th, and from what I saw he should be hitting higher up in that order. He has a .318 batting average through 22 spring training at bats, and is also very good defensively. Logan Morrison should also have a solid season, and the corner outfielders Seth Smith and Dustin Ackley should provide some solid offense as well. The only real hole that I saw in the lineup came from catcher Mike Zunino, who the Mariners are still waiting to come along. Once he gets there, Seattle could have a complete lineup in 2015 that will be a tough matchup for any A.L. pitching staff, including the Astros.
Looking at the Mariners Pitching
This rotation is still very much headlined by Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, with very little depth at the back end. LHP James Paxton had a nice 2014 season, posting a 3.04 ERA with 59 strikeouts in 74 innings pitched. If he can keep those numbers up, he will definitely have a role for that club. J.A. Happ and Taijuan Walker round out the rotation, both needing to have good seasons to maintain their spots. If the Mariners are in contention around the trade deadline, they definitely will be looking to add an arm as they will need one to have a postseason-caliber rotation. The headliners of the Seattle rotation beats out the Astros, but in the 3-4-5 spots, I don’t see much of a difference.
Overall, the Mariners are a threat for the A.L. West division crown in 2015. Finishing at 87-75 in 2014, I see them finishing at about that record, maybe 88-74 or 89-73. With the way that the rest of the A.L. West is shaping up, however, you never know. The Astros will definitely be more of a threat this year and the Angels are still contenders as well. Texas still has a ways to go, and it is hard to get a grip on how Oakland’s 2015 season will turn out, but you can never really count them out. Felix Hernandez will have to be his usual dominant self and Robinson Cano, although he will have more help this season, still needs to produce MVP-caliber numbers. If those things happen and they add another quality starting pitcher, the Seattle Mariners will be contending for the A.L. Pennant in October.
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