Sports

Mariners enjoy a season of progress

The regular baseball season is over and now the fun begins for the four teams involved in the American and National League playoffs.

For another season, the Seattle Mariners are on the sideline, wishing things had gone better but already thinking about next year after a solid 2009 season.

A year ago it was 101 losses, managers were gone, the general manager was fired, players left for free agency and many of us thought they could not recover.

Recover they did. If you recall, Seattle got out of the starting gate in good fashion, winning 13 of its first 22 and they were 2.5 games behind Texas and talk of a pennant race was in the air.

Then they lost two in Texas, two in Kansas City and two more in Minnesota. After a win against the Twins, three more losses in Texas put them 4.5 games out of first.

The club climbed back within 2.5 games in June when they won nine and lost three, but Los Angeles and Texas continued to win and four losses in a row to Cleveland and Toronto in July put them 7.5 back.

They could only close to within 8.5 games in September. The closing went south when they lost six out of seven in early September.



Roster

Along the way the Mariners have been entertaining and then some. Pitching has been pretty solid and starters led the American League in earned run average most of the year. Had the team been able to generate more power along the way, things might've been different.

As it was, the Mariners were great in winning series and one-run games.



Looking ahead

Let's take a look at the position players and dream a bit ...

_ Left field - The Mariners need a big bat in left, but free agent big bats are few and far between and the farm system doesn't have any yet. Endy Chavez may be back, but Michael Saunders needs more work and I would keep him. Bill Hall and Ryan Langerhans don't seem to be the answer; it's a big puzzle for the general manager to solve.

_ Center field - Pencil in Franklin Gutierrez who has been a great addition. His power numbers slid late in the season, but 16 homers and 60 runs batted in count. He could be 20-and-80 next year.

Right field - Ichiro Suzuki has the field as long as he wants it, with 10 homers, 43 runs batted in .357 average, a great glove and amazing plate discipline. I would like to see Chavez lead off, Gutierrez bat second and Ichiro bat third.

_ Designated hitter - Mike Sweeney and Ken Griffey Jr. filled the spot with mixed success. I expected Junior to hit more for average. Will both be back? Will Griffey retire? I look for Sweeney to be gone, but Junior will be around in some capacity. I would sign him again to the same incentive-laden contract and let him have a swing around the league to take well-deserved kudos for an outstanding career. Fans gave a long, loud, standing ovation for "The Kid" after he singled late in the game Sunday afternoon. He was taken out for a pinch runner and the crowd continued to roar. No word on whether this was his last game.

_ Third base - Another big decision for the big brass. I do not offer Adrian Beltre another huge contract. I make Matt Tuiasosopo my third sacker, period.

_ Shortstop - Mid-season addition Jack Wilson should return. He is solid and will hit for average and in the clutch situations.

_ Second base - Jose Lopez led the team in fielding, batting, homers and runs batted in.

_ First base - Russell Branyan did a terrific job before he got hurt. Bring him back. Good glove, solid bat.

_ Utility - I like Josh Wilson. He's young, his best years are ahead him and he can play multiple positions.

_ Catching - What to do with Kenji Johjima is the question. Big contract still in effect. Try to trade or buy out contract. Keep Adam Moore and Rob Johnson and I think Moore eventually will be the starter.

_ Pitching - Try to sign Felix Hernandez to a new contract before his goes into free agency in two years. He won 19 games and is truly the ace of what could be a good staff next year. Ryan Rowland-Smith is the top lefty. Doug Fister and Ian Snell should have a shot and Luke French should be given a chance to make the rotation in spring. Ian Snell would be number five.

Now, what to do with Brandon Morrow? He had a great last outing but really needs to be more consistent. Deal him if you can? I think so.

In the bullpen, Mark Lowe and David Aardsma are keepers. Jason Vargas and Garrett Olson are solid lefty situation guys. Get rid of Randy Messenger, Shawn Kelley, Chris Jakubauskas, Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva, even though the latter still has another year on his outrageous contract.

Seattle has two waiting in the wings: right-hander Robert Manual, obtained from the Reds for Wladimir Balentien, and Mauricio Robles, a 20-year-old lefty obtained in the Jarod Washburn trade with Detroit. He could be a real prize.

Also pencil in a kid named Danny Cortez, a righty who is being groomed as a starter.

Don Wakamatsu and his staff should be retained. They did a fabulous job.



The playoffs

American League - Detroit squandered a big lead and Minnesota tied them. The playoff was Tuesday for the right to face the New York Yankees tonight in New York.

The Los Angeles Angels host Boston Thursday night.

Boston has had the edge on L.A., but I look for the Angels to win the series. I don't think any team can match the power the Yankees put on the field. Every spot in the batting order can deliver a home run.

Yanks over whomever, then will beat the Angels in the title series.

National League - It's the Rockies at Philadelphia today and St. Louis at the L.A. Dodgers tonight. The Dodgers have been coasting, so look for the Cardinals to pull off an upset in that series.

I like Philadelphia's World Series experience against the red-hot Rockies.

Phils to return to the World Series by beating the Cardinals.



Columns by KONP 1450 AM sports announcer Scooter Chapman appear weekly in the Sequim Gazette. He can be reached via

e-mail at scooter@olypen.com.



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