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Just how good are the Mariners?

The Seattle Mariners were the popular team in the 1990’s. Nobody could dislike a group with the irrepressible Ken Griffey Jr. and the flame-throwing Randy Johnson, not to mention Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and a pre-roided Alex Rodriguez. They made the playoffs and had indelible moments, but never reached a World Series.

The Mariners then went 116-46 in 2001, only to lose in the American League Championship Series to the New York Yankees. They have not made the playoffs since, becoming a symbol of pathetic baseball and terrible signings (Richie Sexson and Jarrod Washburn anybody?).

Now, after narrowly missing the postseason in 2014 with an 87-75 record, Seattle seems primed to make the postseason for the first time in over a decade. The Mariners have the odds-on favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award in Felix Hernandez, with Hisashi Iwakuma behind him. The rest of the rotation is young and talented but unproven, with James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and J.A. Happ rounding out the staff. The bullpen should be quality with Fernando Rodney in the ninth inning, preceded by Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar.

In recent seasons, the downfall of the Mariners has been the offense. General manager Jack Zduriencik attempted to address the problem by acquiring Seth Smith and Nelson Cruz to bolster the outfield. With a lineup featuring Austin Jackson at the top with Kyle Seager, Robinson Cano and Cruz in the middle, Seattle finally has legitimate power.

The problem is the depth of the lineup. Should any of the above players get hurt, and Cruz has a vast injury history, the Mariners could have problems. The bottom of the order is potentially brutal, with Mike Zuzino, Logan Morrison and Brad Miller all struggling to get on base. Without premier production in the middle, this group could have some issues, especially with an exceptionally weak bench.

For the first time in ions, Seattle comes into a season with expectations. Vegas currently has the Mariners tied for the second-best odds to win the American League, putting them at 7/1 behind the Los Angeles Angels and alongside the Detroit Tigers.

Seattle will be in a battle all season within the staunch AL West. The Angels are coming off a 98-win season and the Oakland Athletics, who underwent a complete transformation this offseason, are still in the mix. All three could win the division, while the Houston Astros are vastly improved and could push for a winning season.

The Mariners are relying on young pitchers and an injury-prone designated hitter/outfielder to play well. Should either fail, Seattle might be third in the AL West. With any luck in both areas, the Mariners should be a division champ for the first time in 14 years.

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