What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I'm a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
In 2011, the Seattle Mariners won just 67 games, and earned the number three pick in the MLB draft...a year after winning just 61 games, and earning the number two pick in the draft. They won't draft nearly as high next year, because the Seattle Mariners....are World Champions.
Offense was an issue for the Mariners in 2011, and it was in 2012 as well, though not to the extent that it was last season. Former MVP and Rookie of the Year Ichiro Suzuki, who had the worst year of his career in 2011, rebounded quite nicely, hitting .320/.381/.423, stealing 45 bases, and cracking 220 hits. Second baseman Dustin Ackley, who only played in 90 impressive games in 2011, played in a full season's worth this year, and hit .317/.408/.464. He was the best second baseman in the AL not named Robinson Cano. Seattle even got a lift from DH Mike Carp, who impressed during a half-season's worth of plate appearances in 2011. Like the others, Carp got a full season's worth of play this year, and hit a solid .271/.335/.458 with a team-leading 21 homers.
Seattle also got bounceback performances from some unlikely sources. First baseman Justin Smoak, much maligned by the Mariners fanbase since being acquired as the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal in 2010, finally delivered on his oodles of potential by hitting .287/.352/.476 with 18 homers, and looked like a real cornerstone at the position. Chone Figgins, who was an absolute disaster for most of his Mariners tenure, slotted in nicely in the two-hole behind Ichiro, and while his .251/.327/.374 line was absolutely not great at all, Figgins still managed to steal 34 bases for the Mariners.
Two new faces did a lot for Seattle in 2012 as well. Jesus Montero, acquired from the Yankees in exchange for starter Michael Pineda, proved that he could catch every day (a role he was slotted into in mid-May after Miguel Olivo's lack of walks caused Eric Wedge to go insane). Montero hit .311/.398/.514 in 100 games as a starter, and made the Mariners feel much better about the trade. The deal looked even better when Pineda cracked under the bright lights of New York City, going 5-13 with a 4.98 ERA in 25 starts, before being benched in mid-August. Another key new face to contribute was Danny Hultzen, Seattle's top pick in the 2011 draft. The standout from the University of Virginia held the rotation down behind Felix Hernandez, winning 12 games over his 143 innings in the face, and pitching to a 3.41 ERA.
At the end of the day though, Seattle has the best pitcher in baseball in Hernandez, and that is what ended up carrying the team to the playoffs. Hernandez won 23 games with a 2.71 ERA, and struck out 236 hitters in 225 innings. He won the AL Cy Young award for the second time in his career, and had one of the best seasons for a starter in Mariners history. Seattle's rotation past Hernandez and Hultzen was adequate, with Jason Vargas, Hector Noesi and Blake Beavan all having ERAs under 4.50. It wasn't great, but it got the job done.
Another area where Seattle excelled was defense. The outfield defense of Trayvon Robinson, Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro ended up combining for a +35 DRS, and the trio was able to turn many potential extra base hits into singles or outs. On the infield, Ackley and Brendan Ryan were a vacuum up the middle, and combined to turn the most double plays in the league. Figgins and Smoak weren't great at the corners, but they were passable.
Seattle won 96 games during the season, finishing two games ahead of the highly touted Angels superstar lineup. The defending AL champion Rangers didn't make the playoffs after injuries to Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre destroyed their offense, and after Yu Darvish's American debut was a flop, and Neftali Feliz's transition to the rotation was nothing short of a disaster. Oakland was never really in contention during the season, and finished with a top three draft pick for the 2013 draft.
In the playoffs, the Mariners ran through a heavily hyped Detroit Tigers team in the first round. Detroit's powerful mid-order duo of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder were both dealing with nagging injuries for the season's final month, and ended up breaking down for good in the playoffs. In the ALCS, divisional rival Los Angeles came to town, and the Mariners won a hard-fought series by small balling the Angels to death, and holding superstar Albert Pujols in check. Then, it was time for the World Series, and NL champion Philadelphia. The Phillies once again fell short in their quest for a third World Championship, as Seattle ousted them in five games. Ryan Howard's Achilles injury wasn't fully healed and he struggled terribly during the series, while Cliff Lee's return to Seattle was an absolute disgrace, with Lee allowing six runs in three innings in game two of the World Series.
The success of the Mariners in 2012 should be a tale that all baseball fans can look at, and smile. No matter how bad your team is, you always have a chance next season with a little bit of retooling.
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