So, I want to take a closer look and go through these two teams position by position and see where the advantage really lies. There's no question that the Mariners have an OK shot at the playoffs this year, but let's take a closer look here...
1B: Kotchman >> Sexson
I arbitrarily award two points to the Angels here. Kotchman is a better hitter and a better fielder than Sexson at this point, by a substantial margin. Only the slight chance that Sexson's struggles last year were temporary leaves this at only two points.
2B: Kendrick >> Lopez
Defense is basically a push here, in fact Lopez might have a slight edge defensively, so both the arbitrarily-awarded advantage points here are about hitting. Lopez might still break out--he's still young and showed some very real talent for a time--but no one on the planet is betting on it at this point. Kendrick, meanwhile, is soon to be among the best 2-3 second basemen in the AL. There's a chance this should be three points; in fact, I'm making it three.
SS: Betancourt > Aybar
Both these guys took big steps back last year. I fully expect Betancourt to rebound a bit, and his throwing problems to be mostly rectified, but he's already lost a step on defense and may have topped out as a hitter. I'm not particularly sold on Aybar, or Brandon Wood for that matter, but I just can't see giving a 2 point advantage here.
3B: Beltre > Izturis
This might be deserving of 2 points. Beltre is definitely a superior defender and hitter, though I wouldn't be shocked if Izturis outhit him one year or another due to a combination of luck and Beltre tanking, which remains an ever-present possibility. We'll call this 1.5.
C: Johjima > Napoli
Here is where I start wishing I'd given more 3 point advantages earlier so that I could give a 2 point advantage here. Johjima could step back a bit but has been very consistent; Napoli has shown exciting power but doesn't really impress me. I'm not extremely confident here, but I'll award another 1.5.
Running total of arbitrary quantification of talent differential: LAA 5, SEA 4.
This quantification is closer than my instincts about how this will actually play out is, so there's a good chance I've been too generous to Seattle so far.
RF: Guerrero >>> Wilkerson/Morse
If I thought Guerrero was going to play the whole season, I'd be awarding 4 points here. If it weren't for Wladmir Balentien sitting in AAA, I'd be awarding 5. As it is, I still feel like 3 is too low, so LAA gets 3.5 here. But Guerrero's not going to be great forever, so who knows?
CF: Ichiro >> Hunter
While Ichiro may be slightly overrated in his CF defense, Torii's been slipping, which awards a point for offense and a point for defense. I may be being overly cautious here.
LF: GMJR > Ibanez
Ibanez has a chance to close this gap with his bat, but he still can't hit lefties, his defense is atrocious, and I continue to worry he'll stop being effective at any moment. Still, right now, Ibanez is the superior hitter, at least by a hair, so the combination of defense and risk of collapse still only nets the Angels one point.
DH: Anderson > Vidro
I hate Anderson, and I don't think he's very good. I'm not as convinced as some that Vidro is truly god-awful, but this is a very weak position for both teams. I'm only awarding a half point here, but that's not because I think Vidro's going to be any good.
Running total: LAA 10, SEA 6
Well, I may have balanced things out a little too much there, but the point is clear: LAA has the superior offense and defense, and sizeable advantages at key positions. Serious over-achievement by some combination of Sexson, Lopez, Vidro and Wilkerson (or Balentien) is going to be necessary to make this particularly close. Let's go to the pitching:
SP1: Bedard > Lackey
If Lackey wasn't already hurt, I would have called this a push and maybe awarded half a point to Lackey for being so durable (unlike Bedard). Bedard's still an injury risk, but I don't feel bad about giving the Mariners a point here.
SP2: Felix > Weaver
I could have gone with Garland over Weaver here like the depth chart says, but I thought I'd focus on the young guys. Clearly Felix is the superior talent, by leaps and bounds, but I still wouldn't be that shocked to see Weaver out-pitch him one more year. Still, I have to give the Mariners another point here. This would have been a push with Escobar, whose persistent injury concerns would have balanced out the fear that Felix will continue to give up way too many HRs. However, if the Mariners do make the playoffs this year, it will probably be because Felix mops the floor with Weaver and/Garland and/or whoever else, as anyone could predict.
SP3: Garland > Bastista
I know Batista is supposedly our #5 pitcher this year, but I think he's better than Silva or Washburn, so I'm putting him here. I think Garland is not actually very good, so I'm only giving half a point here, but my rosy-glasses with regard to Batista may be on full display.
SP4: Santana > Silva/Washburn
Santana was overrated, now he's probably underrated. He's not much better than the Mariners' guys, but he's better.
SP5: Washburn/Silva = Saunders/Moseley
I'm not awarding any points here, because I think the real difference is going to be in how well depth can cover the various losses in playing time, etc., and more because I just don't feel like I know how this is going to turn out.
Running total: LAA 11.5, SEA 8
Now, to round it all out...
Bullpen: SEA > LAA
If Shields turns out to be fine for most of the season, this could go the other way, and it could be that my ignorance about a lot of the other guys in the Angels pen is making me underestimate them. But I don't really think Shields will be OK, and while the Seattle pen makes me nervous, there's some pretty good talent there.
Bench: LAA >> SEA
Seattle's bench is terrible. It's the worst bench construction I have ever seen. The Angels have some pretty great talent on their bench. I'm only awarding a point and a half here, because I don't think the bench is as important as some of the other stuff , but if this race turns out to be nowhere close, the huge gulf in class between these benches will be a big reason why.
Depth in minors: LAA > SEA
If I was ranking these systems overall, the Angels would get two points here, but in terms of what we'll need and when, I think Seattle isn't so miserably positioned here. There's a good chance Balentien will be able to step in and really help at some point this year, and Baek and Rowland-Smith are pretty solid #6 SP types to fill in for a start here and there (I guess technically those guys are in our bullpen, but they're still essentially available AAA talent the way I look at things). The Angels still have a better group of kids to make use of, but Seattle isn't as far behind as they would appear at first glance, with the exception of the chance that the LAAoA may be able to make use of some of that talent to make an important trade, which could end up making a big difference.
Final tally: LAA 13, SEA 9.
I suppose that means that if I magically intuited the exact difference in talent between the two teams, then the Mariners have a 41% chance of making the playoffs (I submit that their practical chance at the wildcard is 0.0%). That's probably a little harsh, but I think the safe money is still on the Angels.
Don't get me wrong; my hopes are still up, and the thought of Bedard and Felix catching fire in the playoffs is very exciting. But I do believe that the Angels should still be considered the favorites to win the division.