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To get where they want to go this season, and that is playing well into October for the first time in seven seasons, the Mariners' offense must show improvement in the situational-hitting department.
That means advance runners from second to third base with fewer than two outs and, more importantly, get them home.
That was one of the focal points in Spring Training and will continue to be a mantra during the regular season, which begins Monday afternoon (3:40 p.m. PT) at Safeco Field, where the Mariners play the Rangers in the opener of a three-game series.
"We have to do a better job of driving in runners from third base with less than two outs," manager John McLaren said.
The Mariners tied for second in the American League in team batting average last season with a .287 mark, but finished seventh in runs scored. With one exception -- in right field where Brad Wilkerson takes over for Jose Guillen -- the lineup remains exactly the same in 2008 as it was in '07.
A year of Major League experience for shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and second baseman Jose Lopez, and the addition of Wilkerson, should help make up for the offensive loss of Guillen.
Better situational hitting and an improved starting rotation should be a terrific combination.
"Anything less than the playoffs would be a disappointment for me, for sure, and I think the team feels the same way," McLaren said. "We feel like we're a good ballclub and we feel we can be an elite ballclub."
A 162-game regular season will be the first test to see just how good this team can be.
Many eyes will be on first baseman Richie Sexson, who is entering the final year of a four-year contract. The first two were more than acceptable -- 73 home runs and 228 RBIs -- but the third one was a disaster. Besides a .205 batting average, he hit just 21 home runs, drove in only 63 runs and was booed so often at home that he felt far more at ease on the road.
McLaren believes the 6-foot-7 slugger will have a big season and capture the American League's Comeback Player of the Year Award.
At the very least, Sexson's career could be on the line.
TEX: RHP Kevin Millwood (10-14, 5.16 ERA in 2007)
A late start in Spring Training didn't change Millwood's status as the ace of the starting rotation. His final start of the 2007 season, his first with the Rangers, was a 3-1 loss to the Mariners in Seattle.
SEA: LHP Erik Bedard (13-5, 3.16 ERA)
It wasn't quite like mortgaging the farm to get the left-handed starter, but sending five players to the Orioles ranks as one of the biggest trades in franchise history. Bedard is 1-2 with a 5.06 ERA in four career starts at Safeco Field, which should be a lot friendlier than Camden Yards, which has short fences, especially in left field. "I got used to pitching at Camden Yards," Bedard said, "and I'm sure I can get used to pitching at Safeco."
Pay attention to how Rangers shortstop Michael Young does against Bedard in the first inning. A hit would not be a particularly good omen for the Mariners left-hander, because Young is 1-for-17 in his career against him.
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Official game notes
Tuesday: Rangers (Vicente Padilla, 6-10, 5.76) at Mariners (Felix Hernandez, 14-7, 3.92), 7:10 p.m. PT
Wednesday: Rangers (Jason Jennings, 2-9, 6.45) at Mariners (Carlos Silva, 13-14, 4.19), 7:10 p.m. PT