One of the biggest surprises in baseball a year ago was the Seattle Mariners winning 85 games despite being out-scored by their opposition - and finishing last in the American League in runs scored.
One of the biggest challenges facing the Mariners in 2011 is scoring more runs. More than their opponents, more than ... anyone else?
Pitching may be much of the game, but scoring runs has an impact nearly as large. Consider the top four run-scoring teams in the AL last year - New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Minnesota.
Three of those teams won their divisions. The Yankees won it all.
Seattle scored 640 runs in 2009, or an average of 3.9 runs a game. The Angels scored 883 times - 5.6 runs a game. Texas, which finished second to Los Angeles in the AL West, averaged 4.8 runs.
The Mariners response this off-season has been to go after players with higher on-base percentages, men like Milton Bradley (.371 career OBP) and Chone Figgins (.363). The more often Seattle gets on base, the more runs it should score, especially given Don Wakamatsu's love of little ball.
They haven't added much power, but they do have more speed. In players like Ichiro, Figgins, Bradley and Casey Kotchman, the Mariners have contact hitters - the kind of players who can get a runner home from third base with less than two outs.
You've seen the roster, followed Jack Zduriencik's acquisitions and seen Wakamatsu for a full season.
Will this team finish 14th in on-base percentage (.314), 14th in batting average (.258), 14th in walks (421) and 14th in runs again? If so, moving up in the standings is going to be all but impossible.
Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee are formidible weapons, but losing 1-0 or 2-1 games could be crushing to Seattle.
Last year, Ichiro led the team with 88 runs scored, Franklin Gutierrez scored 85 times and no other Mariner scored as many as 70 runs. The Mariners were outscored in 2009, 692-640 - and the only reason it was that close was the superb pitching Seattle got.
Who will lead the team in scoring this year, Ichiro or Figgins? And where will the Marriners finish in scoring? The answer will go far in determining their success in 2010.
And now, a few links:
- Vanderbilt baseball coach Tim Corbin has watched Russell Branyan work out all winter and sees no sign of a bad back. He's mystified that only two teams - Toronto and Cleveland - seem interested.
- Hoping to stop identity theft among young players in the Dominican Republic, where older players steal the IDs of younger players to sign deals, MLB is considering fingerprinting players as young as 11 and 12.
- Feel-good story of the day: Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson accepted first lady Michelle Obama's invitiation to join the White House's anti-obesity campaign.
- Bobby Cox is retiring at the end of the season, and Mark Bowman writes about his legacy in Atlanta - talking to everyone from Hall of Famer Phil Niekro to the Braves traveling secretary. A good read.
- Minneapolis writer Joe Christenson blogs that the Twins are ranked third in 'batting age' among AL teams last year - then explains what that means.
- Who's on first for Florida? GM Larry Beinfest says rookies Gaby Sanchez, 26, and Logan Morrison, 22, will go 'head-to-head' all spring to answer that question.
- At age 26, it appears Northwest product Jon Lester has emerged as the ace of the Boston Red Sox - a notion he laughs at but is willing to embrace.
- The Cincinnati Reds have no starting left fielder and seven - yes, seven - candidates. One of those is Wladimir Balentien, who's out of options.
- Here's a surprise: Carlos Guillen has been hamstrung by injuries the last two seasons in Detroit. This year, he's scheduled to start in left field and bat fifth, and the Tigers need him to protect cleanup hitter Miguel Cabrera. Good luck.