Many of you keep writing in to ask me, so here it goes. My take on what the Mariners lineup could very well look like on opening day.
I see it going something like this:
3B Chone Figgins (S)
2B Dustin Ackley (L)
RF Ichiro (L)
1B Justin Smoak (S)
DH Jesus Montero (R)
LF Mike Carp (L)
CF Franklin Gutierrez (R)
C Miguel Olivo (R)
SS Brendan Ryan (R)
Now, there is a method to the madness. Let’s explore.
First, we know from today’s comments by Mariners manager Eric Wedge that the top-three I’ve outlined are indeed the three he hopes to start the season with in that order.
That gives you two lefty hitters in a row in Dustin Ackley at No. 2 and Ichiro at No. 3.
By putting Justin Smoak in at clean-up, you’ve got a switch-hitter who allows you to stack the top of the order with plenty of southpaw swingers when there’s a right-hander on the mound. If the opposition throws a left-hander at Seattle, you flip Smoak around to the right side and break up the string of lefty bats.
Jesus Montero goes to fifth because the Mariners want to see him somewhere in the middle of the order and I dont think they coddle him if he has a good spring. This team desperately needs middle of the order power and Montero has some. One day, maybe he hits clean-up. But for now, because of the whole lefty-righty thing, I put Smoak at No. 4 for now and Montero fifth.
After that, you have Mike Carp at No. 6. Now, we’ve seen Carp hit further up than that and no doubt he still could for a while. But I just don’t see him as a true 3-4-5 guy for a championship team. For one thing, we don’t know whether he’s a full-time guy or a platoon candidate yet. We also don’t know all that much about his ability to make consistent contact as per his control ratios.
He strikes out a lot and didn’t have as good a walk rate as Smoak.
In the heart of the order, I want a guy who can get on base and hit for pure power. For now, until we see a bit more from Carp other than the couple of great months he put up last year, I’m keeping him sixth.
After that, I’ll go with Franklin Gutierrez over catcher Miguel Olivo at No. 7. At this point, we’re just quibbling a bit. And with Gutierrez’s speed, I suppose you can put him eighth and have a pretty nice Guti-Brendan Ryan-Figgins trio on the bases at some points. But I think Gutierrez will ultimately get on base more than Olivo, so I’m putting him higher. Just a personal preference.
After that, Olivo, a pretty good power threat at No. 8 without as much pressure as he faced last year in the middle of the order. Maybe he loosens up and cranks a few more bombs while striking out fewer times.
Ryan goes ninth because that’s where his bat showed he belonged through the entirety of last season. He did well for a bit as a No. 2 hitter but could not sustain it. For now, he’s ninth.
Now, clearly, you can mix and match and look for alternatives versus left-handed pitchers. But I think we really have to find out a bit more about some of these players and how they look this spring against righties and lefties before I can make a real call on that. For instance, Ackley really struggled against lefties down the stretch last season and if that continues, you might not want him that high up at No. 2 when there’s a southpaw pitching.
But we just haven’t seen enough to know for sure.
Also, keep in mind that managers don’t like to start bouncing young guys all around the batting order. So, even if Ackley struggles early, he still might stay at No. 2 — as opposed to, putting say, Gutierrez in there — versus southpaws while he gets his feet wet at that spot in the order.
Lots of possibilities. But for now, this is my best guess at the lineup we’ll most often see early.