A popular topic floating around Lookout Landing these days is the dreadful outlook on the Mariners' rotation going into the season. And in all honesty, whenever Blake Beaven is a legitimate candidate for a spot in the rotation, the prospects are grim. Without Iwakuma or Walker until mid-April at best, Seattle looks be starting the season with a couple of comeback stories in Randy Wolf and Scott Baker, a rookie who's had an up-and-down minor league career in James Paxton, and someone who looks to be making a career out of being a sixth starter in Erasmo Ramirez. Toss in Blake Beavan, who had a 5.55 ERA in AAA last year, and Roenis Elias, who hasn't pitched higher than AA, and you get a starting rotation that leaves Mariner fans with a bleak expectation for the season. However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the first part of the season.
The Mariners start the season off with two series against the Angels and the Athletics each before moving on to play Texas. A strong showing against the division is imperative for a team that looks to make be a playoff bubble team. And in no way can you feel strongly about putting Seattle's rotation up against those powerful lineups. However, the starting rotation of the teams in the AL West may be just as weak, if not weaker than Seattle's.
The Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels rotation is top heavy. While maybe past their prime, Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson are still a very good 1-2 punch. But after them are three pitchers that might not even make it into the Mariners' rotation at this point. Garret Richards and Hector Santiago were both long relief pitchers and spot starters in 2013.
Santiago pitched decent in 2013 with a 3.56 ERA, however he walked 72 batters and gave up 17 home runs in just 149 innings. Richards appeared in 46 games in 2013, and started 17 of them. He was even asked to close a few games and did record a save.
Seattle is scheduled to face Weaver, Wilson, and Richards in the first series, and Richards and Santiago in the 2 game home series. While Weaver and Wilson are a tough duo, Felix will be facing off with the former, and that is certainly a match up the Mariners won't back down from. The Angels starting rotation does not have an advantage over Seattle. The series will be won by whoever can take advantage of the others' weak staff.
The Oakland Athletics
With Jarrod Parker out for the season, Oakland's starting rotation looks about as bleak as the Mariners', if not worse. Their new "ace" by default is Sonny Gray. Following him Scott Kazmir, AJ Griffin, and Jesse Chavez. The Mariners' are likely to see Gray, Kazmir, and Chavez twice each, with AJ Griffin once in the first series.
Oakland's rotation closely resembles Seattle's, with a couple of sort-of-maybe guys who are still figuring out if they belong in the MLB mixed with some veterans who are trying to recreate their names. However, there is one major difference. The Mariners have Felix Hernandez
An interesting stat pops up when looking at Gray's splits. During day games, Gray's ERA is 2.23 runs higher. The two games Gray is set to pitch against the Mariners? 1:10. Also, Felix will toe the rubber twice against Oakland's best pitcher. While Sonny Gray is a good pitcher, he is better matched up with James Paxton, rather than one of the best pitchers in the game.
The Mariners could really take advantage of the Athletics at the beginning of the year, and should definitely be able to win both series.
The Texas Rangers
The Texas Rangers will be the third team to face Seattle in 2014, and may have the toughest rotation of the three. However, with an injured Derek Holland, the Rangers rotation behind Yu Darvish looks quite mild. The Mariners will go against Martin Perez, Alexi Ogando, and Tommy Hanson before facing off with Darvish in the finale of the series.
Perez was once a top prospect, but has not exactly lived up to the hype as he has been between AAA and the Majors the past two years. He pitched decent in 2013, posting a 3.62 ERA. However, he did have a 1.34 WHIP and lefties hit .282 off of him. Perez does not strike out many hitters, and gives up a lot of base runners. If the Mariners don't let him pitch his out of trouble every inning, I would expect Seattle to come out on top.
Ogando looks to be maybe the toughest match up the Mariners will face during the series, but a left-handed heavy order could take advantage of the 20 home runs he's give up to lefties in career. Seattle has also hit well off of Ogando, hitting .272 and scoring 15 runs in 29 innings. The Mariners have the best batting average against Ogando among teams he's thrown at leas 15 innings against.
The next day Seattle faces off against Tommy Hanson. The Mariners belittled Hanson in June last year, scoring seven runs during his two innings of work. He also owns an 11.25 ERA against Seattle.
And in the last game of the series, the American league's best face off as Felix takes the hill against Yu Darvish. I wouldn't count the Mariners out of any game that Felix pitches in. I could Seattle taking two or three games in this series.
The Mariners' have a left-handed heavy lineup, and they only face three lefties in their first 16 games. I'm not saying the Mariners' rotation will be good without Iwakuma or Walker, or that the team is a lock to win a lot of games in April, but Seattle certainly is not matching up against the 1998 Atlanta Braves. And the team will be regaining their number 2 and 3 starters mid way through April, while the other AL West team's rotations are set to be dismal all year. I have optimism for the Mariners in the first part of the season, even if that optimism has nothing to do with the players on the team. And having Felix going every 5th doesn't hurt either.