The Cleveland Indians head west this week in their first long road trip of the season. The Tribe (4-4) is in Seattle tonight to kick off a three-game series against the Mariners (6-5).
The Indians have had plenty of memorable moments against Seattle in the past, but this is the first time they’ll see the Mariners in action this season. So before the action starts at Progressive Field tonight, we brought in an expert on Seattle: SoDo Mojo Senior Editor Bryant Bartlett, who offered his thoughts on the team we’ll be seeing this week, as well the Michael Pineda trade and the Mariners’ chances of contending now and in the near future.
Read Bryant’s interview with me on SoDoMojo.com.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Most people see Seattle as at best the third-best team in the AL West. Do the Mariners have any chance at all of making the playoffs this year?
BRYANT BARTLETT: Well realistically every team has a chance of making the playoffs no matter how slim. That being said, several things would have to go right for Seattle, and several other things would have to go wrong for Texas and the Angels. In my mind the Mariners aren’t built to contend this year. There offense is still going to be one of the worst in the American League and the pitching has several questions marks being Felix. The talent is there, it just has yet to produce. So do the Mariners have a chance, yes, but it is rather minuscule.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: When do you expect Seattle to contend again?
BRYANT BARTLETT: The Mariners’ window is probably coming here soon. GM Jack Zduriencik has a young core of Felix Hernandez, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Mike Carp to build upon. Those players are only going to improve with another season of Major League experience under their belts and then with the addition of a couple key signings (or trades) the Mariners could put a playoff caliber team on the field as early as 2013.
Zduriencik doesn’t have an unlimited segment of time and his window will begin to shrink rapidly. The fans in Seattle are growing restless, as proven by the dropping attendance rate and the financial loss the team posted last year. I suppose to answer your question, 2013 or 2014 is a realistic expectation for the Mariners to compete in the AL West.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Assuming this year is about rebuilding, what are you looking forward to seeing from the Mariners in 2012?
BRYANT BARTLETT: Well it’s not so much rebuilding as it is just continuing to build. Zduriencik has a plan, and he has been working it ever since he got here. In a way, it is already paying dividends as the Mariners acquired the talents of Ackley, Smoak, Montero, Carp, Casper Wells, Hector Noesi, Blake Beavan, Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Brandon League, Kyle Seager, and Franklin Gutierrez all after Zduriencik took over. Half of those players are already at the big league level and the farm system was recently ranked the 11th best in baseball.
With contention a distant dream, I will look forward to watching our young core of Ackley, Smoak, and Montero evolve into potential stars, as well as paying particular attention to John Jaso, Wells, Charlie Furbush, Seager, Carp, and Gutierrez. I suppose if Felix managed another Cy Young worthy season, that would be worth looking forward to as well.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: The deal centering around Michael Pineda and Jesus Montero was one of the biggest trades of the winter. Was it the right move for the Mariners?
BRYANT BARTLETT: It was. The Mariners gave up a helluva lot of talent in both Pineda and Jose Campos, but they dealt from a position of strength to improve a position of severe weakness. The organization is stacked with arms including but not limited to the big three down in West Tennessee: Hultzen, Paxton, and Walker.
Power however, has been an elusive element of the organization these past five years or so. So while it certainly wasn’t easy, as Pineda was a fan favorite in his short tenure here, most fans understood the process and we have come to grow very excited with Montero’s potential. Don’t sleep on Noesi either. Many still view him as a throw in, which could not be further from the truth. Noesi is equipped with a live fastball with plenty of late action, and a excellent change-up, supplemented by an above average curveball; definitely a sleeper.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: Who’s pitching for Seattle this weekend, and what should Tribe fans look for from them?
BRYANT BARTLETT: Kevin Millwood, Jason Vargas, and Felix. Millwood came in as a non-roster invitee, but was pretty much guaranteed to make the team out of camp. While he struggled early on in his debut against Texas, he came back and retired 16 of the last 19 he faced. He certainly isn’t what he used to be but he is can still power through, finding a way to stay in it for the win.
Vargas is another one of Zduriencik’s gems. He doesn’t have very dominating stuff, but he does have an above average cutter that he will use against righties. Vargas can be up or down, but when he is on his game expect a lot of change ups and cutters against a lineup of frustrated hitters.
As for Felix, well you know Felix. Cy Young stuff who just can’t seem to buy any offensive support.
WAHOO’S ON FIRST: What’s your prediction for the series?
BRYANT BARTLETT: Who’s to say? The Mariners and Indians are in a similar place. It will come down to pitching… mostly ours. The Indians offense has a few more weapons than ours and the Mariners staff is going to have to keep the Indians in the park and off the scoreboard in order to take the series.