I’m not a betting man. Steve Sandmeyer got me interested in the lines and the over/under, but I don’t bet on anything, sports or not.

That could change this summer.

Let me explain.

Here’s what many assume about the 2017 Seattle Mariners:

  • The offense will be strong again
  • The defense will be better, particularly in the outfield
  • The baserunning will be better
  • The bullpen is at least a little bit better, with Edwin Diaz starting the season with the club rather than joining in June
  • The starting rotation can’t match up with that of either Texas or Houston, or other potential Wild Card contenders such as Detroit and New York
  • The worst-case scenario is two or three wins better than a year ago
  • The best-case scenario is two or three wins better than a year ago.

Of the above, here’s what I assume about the 2017 Seattle Mariners:

  • Nothing

Of course, I’d be willing to bet on some things. In the end, however, there’s a good chance the Mariners’ shot to break a 15-year postseason drought comes down to the one thing I’m not willing to bet against: King Felix.

Even if Hisashi Iwakuma recreates his 2016 campaign. Even if James Paxton hands the rotation 190 very good innings reminiscent of his 121 frames from last season. Even if the offense repeats and the defense adds a few wins, which is probably the most Seattle could ask.

Felix Hernandez has to be better. He has to be the King.

Hernandez was merely solid in both 2015 and 2016 after a remarkable six-year run that included a Cy Young Award in 2010.

It’s simple: If Hernandez is close to his pre-2015 self, the Mariners are as good as any team in the American League West. He doesn’t have to be prime Felix, but he has to have a dominant streak or three in him or the M’s are very likely to fall short again this season.

Dipoto has been very creative in adding useful pieces to the roster to offer the club a real chance. But the farm system doesn’t possess the fruit to land a frontline starting pitcher.

It’s up to Felix.

Hernandez made it known he was dedicated to coming back this season in even better shape, most of all stronger. He’s buying into Mel Stottlemyre’s plan to attack more of the strike zone with four-seam fastballs.

Hernandez made just 27 starts last season — 25 in the big leagues, two in the minors on rehab — and totaled 162 2/3 innings. It was the first season since 2007 Hernandez did not complete 200-plus innings. In fact, it’s the fewest innings total of his big-league career.

Perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise; might a lighter workload last season end up helping Hernandez in 2017? Maybe. Ultimately, I have my doubts.

He’s thrown more than 2,400 regular-season innings in 10-plus season, and because he’s not throwing 93-plus anymore, there’s an awful lot of pressure on his command. Command he had in 2013 and 2014, but didn’t have the past two seasons.

I’d bet against a significant increase in velocity. I’d bet against a game plan adjustment making enough of a difference on its own. I’d bet against a lot of things that come from the realm of the unknown.

But I will not bet against Felix’s drive, his desire to be great or his passion for being King Felix. And I will not bet against King Felix’s will to be the biggest reason the Seattle Mariners end a long streak.

Hernandez may bounce back. And if he does, I’d bet on the Seattle Mariners.

All because I won’t bet against Felix.

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Jason A. Churchill

Churchill founded Prospect Insider in 2006 and spent several years covering prep, college and pro sports for various newspapers, including The News Tribune and Seattle PI. Jason spent 4 1/2 years at ESPN and two years at CBS Radio. He now serves as the Executive Copy Editor at Data Skrive, a tech company that manipulates data to provide automated content to clients including the AP, BetMGM, USA Today, and ESPN. Find Jason's baseball podcast, Baseball Things, right here.

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