(SportsNetwork.com) - The Seattle Mariners haven't been to the postseason since 2001. They are hoping to change that this season, as the Mariners kick off their campaign against the defending American League West champion Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Safeco Field.
The road back to the playoffs started last offseason for Seattle when it signed second baseman Robinson Cano away from the New York Yankees to the tune of $240 million. Cano did his part, but had little help in a lineup that scored just 3.91 runs per game.
So, the Mariners continued to open their wallets this winter and agreed to a four-year, $57 million deal with slugger Nelson Cruz, who hit an AL-best 40 home runs last season for the Baltimore Orioles.
Maybe not as bold as Cruz, Seattle also added outfielder Seth Smith. With those two, as well as Cano, burgeoning superstar Kyle Seager, who himself received a $100 million extension this offseason, Austin Jackson, Logan Morrison and Mike Zunino, the Mariners have a lineup that should finish better than the bottom-three in runs scored that it did a year ago.
How can you talk about the Mariners, though, and not mention Felix Hernandez?
Hernandez had another spectacular year in 2014 and will be on the hill Monday for his eighth Opening Day start.
It was a historic season in 2014 for King Felix, as he put forth the best statistical season of his career and a new major-league record with 16 consecutive starts in which he allowed two or fewer runs in at least seven innings of work.
Hernandez was 15-6 last season and led the league with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.915 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) over 34 starts. He was also fourth in the league with 248 strikeouts and held opponents to a league low average of .200.
Hernandez may receive all the headlines, but he is backed by some solid arms in righty Hisashi Iwakuma and lefty James Paxton. This could also be the year that prized prospect Taijuan Walker starts to break through.
What really makes the Mariners go, though, is their bullpen. Spearheaded by closer Fernando Rodney, the Mariners' bullpen ERA of 2.59 was the best in the AL. It should be more of the same, as they return essentially the same unit.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, won more games than any team in baseball last year and returned to the postseason for the first time since 2009 thanks in part to an MVP season from Mike Trout and a nice bounce-back year from Albert Pujols.
Trout's first taste of playoff action may have only lasted three games, as he and his team ran into a buzzsaw named the Kansas City Royals, but the Halos could be poised for some more October baseball.
Los Angeles outscored every team in the league last season, but those numbers may go down with second baseman Howie Kendrick now playing for the Dodgers. Still, Trout is the best player in the game and Pujols showed there was still some life in his bat, swatting 28 home runs and knocking in 105 runs. Those two, along with Kole Calhoun, Matt Joyce, C.J. Cron and Erik Aybar, still provide as solid a lineup as any group in the AL.
The status of Josh Hamilton was somewhat cleared up on Friday when the Angels found out that he would not be suspended following his relapse with drugs and alcohol. The former AL MVP still may not be ready for some time, though, as he is a rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery.
Jered Weaver remains the leader of this staff, but he is nowhere near the same pitcher he was a few years ago. Luckily, they have a pretty deep group behind him in C.J. Wilson, Matt Shoemaker and Garrett Richards once he returns from a knee injury that cut his breakout 2014 campaign short.
Weaver will start on Monday in his seventh Opening Day assignment.