This article is part of our MLB Team Previews series.
Truth be told, the Mariners probably surprised even themselves last year by staying in playoff contention until the final day of the season. Also surprising was how they did it.
Contrary to expectations, the high-profile and high-priced signing of Robinson Cano didn't improve the offense much. The Mariners last year scored a mere 10 more runs than in 2013. No, the Mariners improved 16 games in the standings because of pitching.
Led by Cy Young contender Felix Hernandez, the rotation allowed the fewest runs per start (2.45) in the American League in a non-strike year since the inception of the designated hitter. (Only the 1981 Yankees (2.41) allowed fewer.) The bullpen, meanwhile, posted the fifth-lowest ERA (2.59) in the AL in the last 40 years.
So the Mariners again spent the offseason looking for bats. It took a ton of cash to lure Nelson Cruz to Seattle, but he was the quickest fix at DH for what had become the blackest of holes since Edgar Martinez retired. Since 2005, the Mariners have batted .235/.307/.363 at DH – all lowest in the AL. Last year, Seattle's designated hitters posted a .567 OPS, lowest in the AL by 70 points. To put that into perspective, the M's DH had an OPS lower than any qualifying player in baseball (though Zack Cozart made it close at .568).
Even with an expected slide from last year's career numbers, Cruz will still fix the DH problem and strengthen the Mariners from the right side