Are the Mariners For Real

The baseball season is upon us and it’s time to see who are the contenders and who are the pretenders for 2008. 

The trendy pick for 2008 is that the Detroit Tigers will slug their way to the American League pennant and land in the World Series.  In fact, Sports Illustrated has the Tigers beating the Cubs for the world championship.

I will sell both teams, because in order to win, you need to have pitching.  There is no doubt that the Tigers will score over 900 runs, but in the playoffs, scores are 3-2, not 9-7 and that’s where the Tigers will fall short. 

As for the Cubs, they have never done well as their favorite.  They still have major problems in the bullpen and with their starting pitching.  Is Kerry Wood going to become a bonafide closer?  Can he stay healthy?  The answer, most likely, is no. 

Let’s take a quick look.  In the AL East, the underdog Yankees will beat Boston for the division title.  I’m joking by calling the 26 time world champion Yankees an underdog, but most experts think they have fallen behind the Red Sox in the American League.  I don’t believe that.  They have been to the playoffs 13 straight years and until they don’t qualify, they can never be written off.  Their offense is still good, and the Red Sox pitching has just as many question marks as the Yankees.  Look for Robinson Cano to have a monster season and the Yankees to edge past the BoSox for the AL East crown.

The AL Central should be an exciting race all season.  Most like the Tigers, but Cleveland, the defending champion has better pitching and a pretty darn good offense.  The White Sox should be much better than their 2007 disaster of 72-90, and the Twins, written off every year will manage to hover around .500 and at least stay in the neighborhood.  I’m going to go with the defending division champion Indians because their pitching is much better than the Bengals.

The AL West landscape has changed dramatically this week.  Angel righty Kelvim Escobar may miss the entire season with a right shoulder tear and workhorse John Lackey is out until May.  I really like Seattle’s pitching anchored by Felix Hernandez and lefty Erik Bedard, acquired from the Orioles in the offseason.  If the Mariners are going to topple Los Angeles, the key will be Richie Sexson, who hit .205 with 21 home runs and 63 RBI.  The power numbers are still decent, but the batting average was awful.  The Mariners were outscored by 19 runs in 2007, but still managed to finish with an 88-74 record.  If Sexson can regain his form, and I think he can, the Mariners should be division champs.

After Bedard and Hernandez, their rotation is rounded out by lefty Jarrod Washburn and righties Carlos Silva, and Miguel Batista.  These guys don’t scare anybody, but they make their starts, eat up innings and keep their team in the game.  Batista went 16-11 last year, and though Washburn was only 10-15, he made 32 starts and averaged 6 innings per start.  Their closer, J.J. Putz is one of the best.

Predictions: Yankees, Indians, Mariners, with Red Sox as Wild Card. 

Coming soon:  National League forecast.

Johnny Furgele

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