Sports

Talk of Mariners’ title hopes a prank?

Being the one day of the year that tempts tricksters to disseminate factless and farcical bits on the Internet, I had to squint suspiciously for a moment at a couple April Fool’s news items regarding the Seattle Mariners.

One Las Vegas oddsmaker had installed the Seattle Mariners as the fourth favorite to win the 2015 World Series at 12-1 odds, trailing only the Nationals (6-1), Dodgers (17-2) and Red Sox (10-1).

Well, I’m not falling for that one.

And then a link to a Washington Post season-advance story arrived that projected the Mariners to defeat the Nationals in the World Series.

The Post, that gang of pranksters.

But then two USA Today writers predicted the Mariners would be in the World Series, and that publication hasn’t ever written anything even close to funny. So this is had to be serious.

Apparently, it’s called “buzz.” And it’s not something that has attended the Mariners for almost a generation.

So a lot of us have been conditioned to skepticism, a certain amount of which is still fair when examining the 2015 Mariners. Remember, it’s been 11 seasons since the M’s had so much as two consecutive winning seasons.

This preseason prediction process usually involves looking for a team on the rise that made some good offseason moves. As it turns out, picking teams to repeat, or backing the obvious clubs, is boring. So most of us reach a little bit.

The Mariners seem legit as a team at least on the threshold, coming back from 91 losses in 2013 to 87 wins last season, falling one victory short of the postseason.

That 16-win improvement is supported by the addition of Nelson Cruz, the reigning MLB home run king.

Felix Hernandez, despite an ordinary spring, is in his prime and once again a Cy Young candidate. And, you have heard this before, but some promising young arms seem ready to blossom. All of which is in addition to the best bullpen in baseball.

Cruz, for one, has to be an improvement at DH. But he turns 35 this summer, and we will need to see how much his power numbers are muted by the Safeco Field dimensions and wet-blanket atmospheric conditions.

Robinson Cano, for instance, had 24 homers for the Yankees in 2013, a total that dipped to 14 last season with Seattle. If Cruz has a similar exchange rate, his 40 could fall to 23.

Closer Fernando Rodney, he of the 133 saves the past three seasons, has turned 38. How many arrows remain in that quiver?

Maybe the Mariners are in that sweet spot where the young guys ripen before the veterans start to fade. And maybe the boost of power added to the pitching is enough to make these predictions come true.

Some perspective brought by Barry Svrluga in that Post story made a lot of sense, at least as it supported his vision of a Mariners title.

The qualities that allow a team to win 95 or 100 games during the season aren’t necessarily those that take a team deep into the postseason. Last year, for instance, the Series featured teams — Giants and Royals — who were short of 90 wins. Neither won its division.

But the Royals had a dominant bullpen, and the Giants had a red-hot starter in Madison Bumgarner. In the postseason, it’s about winning series. Hernandez and the Mariners’ bullpen might fit that mold.

No question, the Mariners have gone out and spent money on players, which draws attention. Given recent history, though, it feels like a strain to label them title contenders in April.

But they’re part of a fair discussion, and that’s better than they’ve been in a long time.

  Comments