Starting Pitching Key: Felix Hernandez
On the surface, it appears that the Mariners have taken steps not to be so reliant on Hernandez’s greatness by bolstering the offense. In reality, though, since they brought the fences in at Safeco Field and their lesser pitchers are likely to suffer, they’ll need Hernandez to be as good or better than he’s been in recent years. In addition, GM Jack Zduriencik and manager Eric Wedge have their jobs riding on this season. If the Mariners don’t show legitimate improvement, there’s likely to be a new regime in Seattle. Hernandez’s medical exam for his new contract made public possible future issues with his elbow. If Hernandez is diminished in any way due to the new park dimensions, an injury or just bad luck, the Mariners 2013 season is shot.
Relief Pitching Key: Tom Wilhelmsen
Wilhelmsen is an interesting story as he was out of baseball and working as a bartender before receiving a tryout with the Mariners based on Zduriencik having been part of the Brewers’ front office that drafted him in the first place.
With a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a slow curve, Wilhelmsen strikes out plenty of hitters and in a strange way, the time away from the game is probably going to help him stay healthy. The Mariners have a mandate to contend this season and they need quality work from their closer to do it.
Offensive Key: Justin Smoak
Smoak murdered the ball in spring training, for what that’s worth. Since he was acquired as one of the key parts of the trade of Cliff Lee to the Rangers in 2010, he hasn’t hit much the Mariners at all. That said, many of his problems could have stemmed from the spacious home ballpark. He hit 19 homers in 2012 with 15 of them on the road. Perhaps the alterations and reduce the intimidation factor of the home park and spur him to return to the high on-base, switch hitting bat with pop the Mariners thought they were getting.
Defensive Key: Brendan Ryan
Ryan is in the lineup for his defense and run prevention. It seemed in years past that the Mariners were all run prevention and no runs, probably because they were all run prevention and no runs. With the smaller park, the Mariners have to keep runners off the bases and prevent big innings with the higher run totals that will be accumulated at home. Ryan, at shortstop, is the center of the diamond and the center of that blueprint.