For the Seattle Mariners, the addition of the Houston Astros to the American League West is welcome news indeed. It allows the Mariners a much better shot of staying out of the division basement and gives them 19 games a year to pad their record and players stats.
Opening the remolded Safeco Field against the Astros was an added bonus, but also an early test for players under the microscope.
Justin Smoak has drawn the frustration of the fans for his continued inability to hit when it counts. Despite having a blazing September and a torrid spring, Smoak is back to his sub-.200 batting average and had contributed next to nothing to the team during the first week of the season.
Slow starts are nothing new for Smoak as he has done this every year he has been with the Mariners, only to show flashes during the season before becoming ice cold once again. His saving grace has been his play in the final month of the season and spring, which keeps the front office thinking he is due to turn the corner.
The same can also be said for Jesus Montero, who while providing an adequate bat, has been very lacking behind the plate and with Mike Zunino tearing up Triple-A, the pressure is on for Montero to show that he can be more than a DH at the major league level.
Unlike past seasons, the Mariners are loaded with options ranging from Kendry Morales, Michael Morse, and Jason Bay, all of whom can replace Smoak at 1B and give the team the luxury of going with bats that produce rather than play the waiting game.
The popular belief is that the Mariners will wait until June to make any changes involving their prospects, as they wish to get around any potential service time issues. However, for a fan base eager for wins and with a new sense of optimism for the team, the window may be rapidly closing for Smoak, Montero and possibly Dustin Ackley.