John McGrath

2018 baseball preview; one man’s hopes and dreams for the season

Seattle Mariners first baseman Daniel Vogelbach made the Opening Day roster but his path to playing time is unclear.
Seattle Mariners first baseman Daniel Vogelbach made the Opening Day roster but his path to playing time is unclear. AP

My wish list for the 2018 baseball season:

▪ I want Angels rookie Shohei Ohtani to prove he’s not the flop he looked like in spring training. The “Japanese Babe Ruth,” touted as the most dynamic pitching-hitting talent since, well, Babe Ruth, had serious control problems on the mound – his Cactus League ERA was 27.00 – and things were no better for him at the plate. (He went 4-for-32, with 10 strikeouts and no extra-base hits.)

The Mariners put together an earnest and enthusiastic campaign to sign Ohtani over the winter, and he shunned them for a division rival. That Otani will be booed when he makes his first plate appearance at Safeco Field, and every plate appearance thereafter, is a given. I understand the vitriol.

But baseball needs some fresh story lines. What is more fresh than a starting pitcher capable of hitting 450-foot home runs between starts?

▪ I want the Miami Marlins to break the record for most defeats in a season since 1900. It’s been held by the Mets since 1962, when they lost 120 games as an awkwardly assembled expansion team.

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter – aka “the American Babe Ruthless” – has modeled his business style in the mode of the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who seemed to revel in the fun of regarding underlings as pathetic saps fearing their mighty and majestic boss.

The 2018 Marlins will be awful. Historically awful? One can hope.

▪ I want some pennant-fever suspense. The only division up for grabs last season was the AL East, which the Red Sox won by two games over the Yankees.

Other races were as dull as a Tony Robbins self-help seminar: Houston took the AL West by 21 games, Washington took the NL East by 20, Cleveland took the AL Central by 17, and in what amounted to a photo finish, the Cubs took the NL Central by six games.

Expanding the playoffs with a wild-card component was the crowning achievement of Bud Selig’s checkered career as MLB commissioner. The wild card works, but there is no substitute for a genuine race to finish first.

▪ I want the Mariners’ Daniel Vogelbach to inform the world that his spring-training breakout wasn’t a tease. Stats are famously suspect in the Cactus League, where the dry Arizona air is favorable to hitters sitting on breaking pitches that don’t break.

But Vogelbach tore it up, to the point manager Scott Servais refers to him as “Vogelbomb.” He’s got light-tower power from the left side, a shrewd recognition of the strike zone, and the discipline to take the borderline outside pitch to left field.

The problematic issue confronting “Vogelbomb” – is that a cool nickname, or what? – regards roster construction. He profiles as a designated hitter on a team whose incumbent DH, Nelson Cruz, led the AL last season with 119 RBI.

Vogelbach also plays first base, a position occupied by Ryon Healy, the right-handed slugger acquired from Oakland. As long as Cruz and Healy are entrenched in the everyday lineup, it’s difficult to foresee Vogelbach as anything more than a pinch-hitter summoned to face right-handed relievers throwing 98 mph gas in the eighth or ninth inning.

Tough duty.

▪ I want the Mariners’ three-game home series against the Yankees, in early September, to be consequential. The Yanks, who picked up Giancarlo Stanton over the winter, are loaded with big bombers flexed to break the single-season record of team homers, set at 264 by the 1997 Mariners.

Seahawks football will be dominating the local sports-talk conversation in September – heck, it’s dominating it now, in March – and the possibility of the Mariners remaining relevant beyond Labor Day intrigues me.

▪ I want the Mariners to break fast, like right out of the gate. The 2017 season began with a 1-6 road trip. It took a few months to make it to .500, and as late as Aug. 26, the team was 66-64. But the energy was sapped.

Instead of a 1-6 start, how about 6-1?

The seventh game on the Mariners’ 2018 schedule is a Saturday matinee at Minnesota. Tie score, nip and tuck, Servais calls upon a ninth-inning pinch hitter and Vogelbomb goes deep.

Dreams are so fun.