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Originally published Monday, March 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM


Larry Stone

Suddenly, M's are f-f-favorites in AL West

Let's just say it: The Mariners have become the f-f-favorites in the American League West. Not prohibitively, mind you. There's still much potential...

Seattle Times baseball reporter

PEORIA, Ariz. — Let's just say it: The Mariners have become the f-f-favorites in the American League West.

Not prohibitively, mind you. There's still much potential for danger and distress. Don't schedule the parade quite yet.

But the Seattle Mariners, who haven't sniffed the postseason since 2001, who crumbled in epic proportions last year, who have broken their fans hearts on an annual basis most of this decade, are now the team to b-b-beat.

The Mariners might prefer to keep their gutsy underdog status — it's a much more comfortable route to take — but the John Lackey news this weekend appears to have changed everything.

Lackey is out until mid-May — at the earliest — with a triceps injury in his right arm. The Angels are already missing Kelvim Escobar for the first month of the season with a shoulder injury.

That's 37 victories out of the Angels rotation for the first month of the season, and perhaps well beyond. That's 18 combined starts, at the very least, for which the Angels will have to fill in with lesser pitchers and hope to survive.

It marks a sea change in the popular wisdom that the Angels are the AL West chalk, a seismic shift in the tectonic plates of the division.

It's the opening the Mariners have been waiting for, before a single game has been played. And the early demise of the Angels' dual aces has left the Erik Bedard trade looking much better than it did a week ago.

Love it or hate it — and the long-term wisdom of this deal could be debated nonstop for a month — the presence of Bedard atop the Seattle rotation has left the Mariners' well-positioned to seize control of the division. More so than they would be if, say, Brandon Morrow, Cha Seung Baek and Ryan Feierabend were battling for a spot in the rotation.

Consider that the Mariners have what appears to be a favorable April schedule — series with Texas (two), Baltimore (two), Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Oakland (two) at the outset, interspersed with six games against the Angels.

Consider that the Angels, on the other hand, play eight games against the Red Sox, Tigers and Indians before April 27.

Consider that Lackey, who has been a premier Mariners killer (4-0, 0.58 earned-run average last year), will be replaced by the likes of Dustin Moseley, Nick Adenhart or Nick Green — unless they swing a trade, or sign one of the dregs still on the market. The loss of Escobar had already cut into their depth.


Jarrod Washburn, who owns a World Series ring from his Angels days, knows that their manager, Mike Scioscia, won't let them wallow in self-pity.

"He's big into preaching, don't worry about what you can't change; worry about what we do in here," he said. "He's good about teaching that. Guys follow that."

Washburn has mixed emotions about the Angels' predicament, because Lackey is one of his best friends, and Escobar is a former teammate as well. Washburn commiserated on the phone with Lackey on Saturday, shortly after the diagnosis came down.

"Hopefully, they both come back and are healthy and we can beat them when they're at full strength," Washburn said.

On the other hand, he fully recognizes the opportunity their absence presents the Mariners.

"That's a big blow for them," Washburn said. "That's their two best pitchers, and two of the best pitchers in the game. They'll be hard to replace, so hopefully they get off to a bit of a slow start. If we miss John twice because of this, it can't hurt our chances.

"We see it as something we want to hopefully take advantage of. But we can't control how they play. Whoever steps in might do a great job, and they might not miss a beat."

Indeed, the Mariners should not gloat or get too comfortable. There is already speculation that the Angels might make a play for Oakland's Joe Blanton. Athletics general manager Billy Beane has never held to the old bromide that you don't trade within your division — especially with the A's in full rebuilding mode. As long as Beane can unburden the Angels of a top prospect or three, he'll listen.

Blanton would trump Moseley, and soften the blow considerably. And the Mariners, like every team, are not immune from the injury curse. If Bedard or Felix Hernandez were to go down, disregard everything you've read so far.

These things can strike without warning. Josh Beckett came to Boston camp as a Cy Young favorite, and now he's shut down indefinitely by back spasms. One day, Houston's Kaz Matsui is minding his own business, getting ready for the season, and the next day he's facing surgery for anal fissures.

Washburn is correct in observing that the favorite's role in March means little. The Yankees are the favorite every year, and haven't won a World Series since 2000. The Diamondbacks and Rockies were on no one's radar a year ago, and met for the National League pennant.

The Mariners were actually feeling good about their chances before Lackey joined Escobar on the shelf.

"Everyone here is happy with the additions we made in the offseason," Washburn said. "Bedard and [Carlos] Silva solidify the rotation, round it out. Every single night we take the field, we have a great chance of winning. That's half the battle, going into it feeling you have a chance to win."

The Angels' nightly prospects are not looking quite as good today as they were last week, or last month, at least on the surface. For the Mariners, for now, that bodes well.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.

UPDATE - 10:00 PM
Larry Stone: Young pitcher Michael Pineda offers glimpse of exciting future for Mariners