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2015 AL West preview: Mariners look for that missing piece

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Will the addition of some Cruz missiles be enough to support the Mariners' strong pitching staff?
Will the addition of some Cruz missiles be enough to support the Mariners' strong pitching staff?
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

After losing 101 games in 2010, the Seattle Mariners gradually worked their way back into contention by 2014. The theme of the team during that time has been strong pitching and weak offense, and so it remained last year. The pitching staff, led by Cy Young runner-up Felix Hernandez, allowed the fewest runs in baseball while the lineup ranked in the bottom half in scoring, and they finished one game behind the A's for the final playoff spot. Determined not to stand pat and fall short again, they beefed up their attack by adding Nelson Cruz, the reigning MLB leader in homers, as well as another solid bat in Seth Smith and a wildcard in Rickie Weeks. Did they pack on enough muscle to get back into the postseason for the first time since 2001? The consensus seems to be "probably," which has made them a popular pick to win the AL West.

Felix Hernandez
"GIVE ME MORE RUN SUPPORT PLEASE." - King Felix -- Photo credit: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Projected Lineup

C Mike Zunino
1B Logan Morrison
2B Robinson Cano
SS Brad Miller
3B Kyle Seager
LF Dustin Ackley/Justin Ruggiano
CF Austin Jackson
RF Seth Smith (currently day-to-day, see below)
DH Nelson Cruz

Bench: Jesus Sucre (C), Rickie Weeks (2B/DH), Willie Bloomquist (IF/OF)

Projected Rotation

1. Felix Hernandez (R)
2. James Paxton (L)
3. Hisashi Iwakuma (R)
4. Taijuan Walker (R)
5. J.A. Happ (L)

Depth (Triple-A): Roenis Elias (L)

CL: Fernando Rodney (R)
Key pen: Danny Farquhar (R), Charlie Furbush (L), Tom Wilhelmsen (R), Yoervis Medina (R)

Key Injuries

Ranked on a scale of 1 (no big deal) to 10 (serious problem)

Player Details Rating
SS Chris Taylor Fractured right wrist; 15-day DL, could return in late April 2
OF Seth Smith Groin tightness, day-to-day 1

Explaining the ratings: Taylor shouldn't miss too much time, and he was battling with Brad Miller for the job anyway; Miller has already started 4-for-10 with a homer, so the biggest problem could be deciding what to do with Taylor upon his return if Miller keeps hitting. Smith is just out with an early-season muscle tweak, and he'll be back any day.

Best-Case Scenario

Nelson Cruz solves the marine layer at Safeco Field, and he, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager combine for 90 homers. Logan Morrison finally stays healthy and has the career year he was always supposed to have; he becomes the kind of obnoxious fan favorite who his home fans love but who fans of the other 29 teams can't stand. Basically, he becomes the baseball version of a Seattle Seahawk. All of the latent talent in the lineup finally arrives and there are average-or-better performers at every position -- even Willie Bloomquist hits .320 off the bench. King Felix wins another Cy Young, narrowly beating out teammate James Paxton in the vote, and the pitching is as good as ever. The Mariners run away with the division and finally reach (and win) their first World Series. As a token of gratitude to fans, the general manager legally shortens his name to "Jack Z" so that no one has to worry about spelling it right anymore. The guy on the logo of Lookout Landing finally lifts his head out of his hands, the corner of his mouth curling up in a faint but perceptible smile.

Worst-Case Scenario

Same story, different year. Another vintage King Felix season is wasted on an 80-something win, third-place team, which is actually more agonizing than finishing in last because success is so tantalizingly close. The rotation stays healthy and effective, but Fernando Rodney hurts his shoulder doing his arrow-shooting celebration and the bullpen blows just a few too many leads. Cano and Seager are good as usual, but Cruz does his best Chone Figgins impression and his bat inexplicably disappears. He and Smith are the latest free agent flops devoured by the ample confines of Safeco, and the lineup gets shut out just a few too many times. Jack Zduriencik is fired after whiffing on the playoffs again, but he's replaced by a guy named Myke Siesztrzewitowski, who hires an assistant named Efstathios Papadimitropoulos. It takes seven tweets just to announce the hiring. The bench in the Lookout Landing logo breaks and the sad guy falls on the ground and bruises his tailbone.

My Prediction

I have to pick someone to win the AL West, because I'm 85 percent sure that somebody will, and I find myself going with the general flow and choosing Seattle. They have two probable Hall of Famers who should still be great this season (Felix and Cano) and another budding superstar (Seager), and even though I think Cruz will take a big step back he won't go full Figgins. Or maybe this is the year one of those big guns has an off-year or an injury, and Cruz steps in to replace him with a big season. It won't all go right, but enough of it will, and the Mariners will be the ones squeaking out ahead in a close division race. There's usually an unexpected breakout star on a playoff team, so I'll go with ... I don't know, shortstop Brad Miller? Sure, he's as good a random choice as anyone. Austin Jackson is the guy I have the least faith in, but one of these years a few extra players in Seattle's lineup will hit their upsides and this will finally be the year. Record: 89-73

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Revisit the 2014 preview