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The 2014 outlook for the Seattle Mariners

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seattle.mariners.mlb.com

Seattle sports fans may be in a patient and forgiving mood right now. After all, their throats are still raw from yelling and their cheeks are still sore from smiling after the Seahawks run to their first ever Super Bowl title. But if someone was, in particular, a Mariners fan the wait is getting to be out of hand.

If a baseball fan was born on the same day that the Mariners' franchise was founded, that fan would celebrate his 37th birthday with nary a trip to the Fall Classic. That isn't Chicago Cubs territory yet but it's getting a touch embarrassing. The Cubs have made the NLCS twice in that amount of time. But it gets worse.

A young Mariners fan entering the 7th Grade in September has never known his/her team in the post-season. How about one more fact?

It has been five years sine the Mariners have won 80 games in a season. The only thing that has kept the M's out of the cellar has been the fortuitous arrival into the American League West of the Houston Astros.

But Spring is nothing if it isn't about renewal of mind, body, and spirit. It's 64 degrees in the Puget Sound today. The birds are singing. Couldn't this be a herald of an unlikely trip to the playoffs for long-suffering M's fan?

The folks in Las Vegas that handicap such things say, "NO!" But that's what makes it an "unlikely run" and that much more fun if it happens. So what needs to come about for this team? Who is key to a summer as happy for Seattleites as Fall was for them?

1.) Robinson Cano: The Mariners are paying Cano the equivalent of Zimbabwe's Gross National Product. He must lead this team and learn quickly the difference between being A MAN and THE MAN. He must hit for average, hit for power, field his position in a better than average manner, and generally lead this offense just as Felix Hernandez leads the staff.

2.) Dustin Ackley: Ackley has been full of promise since he arrived on the scene. Now he must continue his offensive development and learn to play left field. He has played fewer than 50 games in left in his career. He has the speed and likely the range. Does he have the arm? He will need to have both.

3.) Corey Hart: The oft-injured Hart is a physical specimen...just like Michael Morse. Hart needs to stay off of the training table and rekindle the numbers that he put up during his halcyon days in Milwaukee. If he does he will easily outstrip the numbers of the departed Morse. But the M's want more than just that. They want Hart to be a force.

4.) Brad Miller: The new everyday shortstop put up very impressive numbers during a partial year in 2013. Can he make those numbers stand up over a full season? As importantly, can he make all of the routine plays (and the occasional spectacular ones) at short over the long season? If so, the potency factor for Seattle just went up.

5.) Mike Zunino: Another baby in the starting lineup and this one at the all-important catching position. Zunino only hit .214 in a trial last season but the M's think that will improve. More importantly, can he call a game? Handle a staff? Throw out base-stealers? If Zunino turns out to be plus, plus, plus in those categories the M's will accept .214.

6.) Fernando Rodney: The new closer throws canned heat from the right side, but he can get a little wild. This is his fourth team in five years. Can he find the strike zone often enough to ring the winning bell for his new team? The Mariners, and their fans, need that answer to be in the affirmative.

The baseball season begins in earnest a week from today. Play ball!