Midweek Morosi: Mariners a real threat in loaded AL West

Robinson Cano has avoided the immediate stumble many superstar free agents experience.

Jae C. Hong/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Seattle Mariners — perpetual afterthoughts tucked away in the corner of our baseball map, 13 years removed from their most recent postseason berth — now hold the best record in the American League.

April baseball can skew numbers and tease hearts, but there are genuine reasons to believe the Mariners will finish with their first winning record since 2009.

Through seven games, Seattle starters are 5-1 with a 2.98 ERA. That ranks eighth in the majors — without the injured Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker, both of whom should be able to contribute during the first half.

Cuban left-hander Roenis Elias, who starts Wednesday against the Angels, was a spring training revelation after spending all of last season at Double-A.

*Robinson Cano has avoided the immediate stumble many superstar free agents experience. He has a .346/.469/.423 slash line, while giving credence to the belief that his presence will change the mindset and/or approach of the Mariners’ young hitters.

Consider Justin Smoak, long regarded as a bust after arriving as the centerpiece in the 2010 Cliff Lee trade. He’s off to a .321/.387/.643 start with two home runs. New manager Lloyd McClendon has observed that Smoak is focusing on doubles, not homers. So far, it’s working.

McClendon deserves credit for his handling of Smoak, who had been the subject of offseason trade talks. Upon arriving at camp, McClendon consistently said Smoak would have the chance to play first base every day — even after the acquisitions of Corey Hart and Logan Morrison. McClendon has held to his word; Smoak has started every game at first base.

*After changing course with their young players numerous times in recent years, it seems the Mariners finally have committed to a plan. And it’s working. Smoak (first base), Brad Miller (shortstop), Dustin Ackley (left field) and Abraham Almonte (center field) have started every game at their positions; Mike Zunino (catcher) and Kyle Seager (third base) have played all but one at their spots.

AROUND THE HORN

*The rest of the AL West is not as frightening as we thought it would be. Though the Rangers are virtually certain to play better as the season goes along, they have multiple key contributors out with long-term injuries and aren’t getting much help from a shaky defense.

Though Oakland currently has the division’s best rotation ERA at 2.14, injuries to Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin seem likely to narrow the A’s pitching advantage as the season wears on. And though the Angels should score plenty of runs as long as Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols remain healthy, their pitching staff isn’t as deep as Seattle’s.