Our Cactus League previews continue, reviewing Seattle and Cincinnati.
The Seattle Mariners projected win total is merely 71.5 wins for the 2012 season, but you wouldn’t know it by how they played Tuesday in Goodyear, Az. In scorching Cincinnati 8-1, the Mariners top and bottom of the batting order pounded out 13 of their 14 hits before 4,322 fans.
In a battle of aging starting pitchers, Kevin Millwood easily bested Jeff Francis for the Reds. Millwood, who is non-roster invitee, permitted one run and four hits over five innings and not walk a batter, while striking out five. The much traveled veteran hurler was throwing mostly hard sliders away to right-hand batters and getting the ball into the hands of lefty hitters.
“I definitely feel good about where I’m at,” Millwood said. “There’s still a ways to go with pitch count and getting that built up, but for where I’m at, I’m pretty happy with it.”
Francis was not as sharp as his mound counterpart in allowing a few more hits, but he kept Cincinnati off the scoreboard until he seemed to tire in the fifth inning and surrendered three runs, which included a long home run to big Carlos Peguero on a changeup over the heart of the plate.
Mariners Notes – Seattle has just one more spring training game before heading with Oakland to Japan to play exhibition games with local teams and two regular season games against the A’s in foreign territory.
It was hard to get a great read on M’s since many of their starters like Ichiro Suzuki did not play. Seattle has been last in runs scored in the Major Leagues the past two seasons and is shaking up their lineup at the front end to hopefully produce better results. Ichiro is vacating his familiar leadoff spot to bat third in the lineup, as Chone Figgins returns to his former slot at the top of the order when he was with the L.A. Angels.
Seattle does have nice young talent with players like outfielders Mike Carp and Peguero, along with infielders Dustin Ackley and Justin Smoak.
The controversial trade of Michael Pineda, definitely weakened the starting rotation, but the M’s front office was desperate for more offense and acquired catcher/DH Jesus Montero from the Yankees to juice up the lineup.
While the Mariners starting lineup shows potential, the starting pitching is another matter. Of course Felix Hernandez will be the leader, but Jason Vargas is slotted for No. 2 and has been rocked all spring after an inconsistent 10-13 season in 2011. The remainder of the starters are looking like Hector Noesi (probable No. 3), Millwood, Hisashi Iwakuma (who pitched three scoreless innings Tuesday, yet gave up five hits) Blake Beavan or Erasmo Ramirez. Not exactly Glavine, Maddux and Smoltz from the Atlanta Braves.
Seattle won 67 games in 2011 and pushing beyond 71 seems like an uphill battle having to face Texas and the Angels 32 total times.
Reds Notes – Cincinnati is again favored to win the NL Central, at least by oddsmakers, with a projected total of 88 wins.
The Reds had nearly all their starters play the first five innings and they did next to nothing with Millwood. Cincinnati’s product looks impressive on the field, with a collection of bigger players at 6-3 to 6-4, in the 215 to 225-pound range. While they all appear to be good athletes, you are not blown away thinking they are superior athletes, leaving open the window that defensively there are holes. Cincinnati will do strong work on balls they can field (4th in fielding percentage in the NL in 2011), yet their range is somewhat limited.
The Reds have several talented bats in the lineup and scoring runs should not be an issue.
If Dusty Baker’s club is to win a weakened division, their pitching will be the deciding factor. Even having a pitcher like Francis in camp shows weakness for a team that is supposed to be a National League World Series contender.
The bullpen is a mess right now with new closer Ryan Madson and lefty specialist Bill Bray working thru arm issues. Former Cubs reliever Sean Marshall struck out three batters in an inning of work Tuesday, however he can also be tagged, which is why Chicago moved him.
At 6-10, Andrew Brackman is an imposing figure on the mound, but Seattle backups smacked him around for four hits and two runs yesterday in an inning and two-thirds, giving the appearance the bullpen is anything but settled.
Baker needs to make a decisive move with Aroldis Chapman, in making the hard-thrower a starter or late inning specialist and not going back and forth. Cincinnati still has more than two weeks to sort matters out and everything could fall into place.
With Philadelphia’s mounting offensive conundrum and San Francisco not 100 percent certain to be even an average senior circuit offense, the Reds have an opportunity to be the beast in the National League. Are they ready to seize the moment?