Spoke a bit this morning on Talkin’ Baseball on Sports Radio KJR about the power boost the Mariners should see this coming season. It would be impossible to add Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales to your lineup without getting a significant home run uptick.
Throw in an improved Justin Smoak and still-improving Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero, with a solid Kyle Seager to boot, and the offense has the potential to change dramatically. That said, it will all be rendered somewhat moot if the Mariners don’t do a better job of getting on base.
And it has to start at the top of the order.
Franklin Gutierrez gets the leadoff nod tonight because there’s a left-hander, Brett Anderson, on the mound. When the lineup starts facing more righties, we could see Saunders assigned that role. Regardless, Saunders and Gutierrez should be batting 1-2 in the order for a good part of this early season.
And they have to be up to the task.
The Mariners two years ago got a .310 OBP out of Ichiro atop the order and that’s why he was bumped from it, only to see the team regress to combined sub-.300 levels last year, which is why they remained among the worst offenses in all of baseball.
Saunders last year, for all the improvement he brought to his game, had an OBP of just .306. Gutierrez has been hurt of ill for most of the past three seasons, but his OBP when he actually played was .303 in 2010, .261 in 2011 and .309 in 2012.
His last “healthy” season — impacted by knee issues in the second half — was .339 and that’s the type of production good teams need to get out of the leadoff spot. So, if you’re the Mariners, you need to hope for improved OBP from Saunders and that the numbers Gutierrez put up in 2009 can be replicated if he stays on the field.
Do that, the sky’s the limit for this offense. Turn a bunch of those solo homers into two-and-three-run blasts and all of a sudden, your offense becomes one of the better ones in the game.
But if there is a weak spot to be found in this batting order — besides Brendan Ryan in the No. 9 spot — it’s this part of it. The lack of a true leadoff hitter and some questionable OBP guys batting first and second.
We’ll know pretty quickly whether this arrangement is going to work out. It will be one of the things that bears watching most early on — along with the starting rotation — because a great deal of expected improvement by this team hinges on the offense. And if the Mariners can’t get the engine started up top, then some of their best laid plans could be in for a problematic ride.