The Mariners open the 2015 season Monday afternoon at an expected near sold-out Safeco Field against the Los Angeles Angels while saddled with lofty and real expectations of a playoff appearance and beyond.

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Perhaps the man who will take to the mound for the Mariners on Monday best summed up the feelings about the end of spring training and the beginning of baseball’s regular season.

Opening Day 2015

Mariners vs. Angels, Monday 1:10 p.m., Safeco Field; TV: ROOT, Radio: 710 ESPN  

“Finally, huh?” said Felix Hernandez, Mariners’ ace and underrated baseball philosopher.

Meet the 2015 Mariners

Every year there is enthusiastic anticipation for the opening day of the Mariners’ season. It’s a reminder that warmer weather will maybe, hopefully, be coming soon to the Puget Sound and on-field success, despite glaring reality, is still possible.

But this year, it’s different.

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The Mariners open the 2015 season Monday afternoon at an expected near sold-out Safeco Field against the Los Angeles Angels while saddled with lofty and real expectations of a playoff appearance and beyond.

This hasn’t happened much for the organization in the past 15 years. Sure there were postseason thoughts before the 2008 and 2010 seasons, but nothing quite like the buildup to this season.

With the offseason offensive acquisitions of Nelson Cruz, Rickie Weeks, Justin Ruggiano and Seth Smith to join a core group that includes Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, the overall pitching depth bolstered by the addition of J.A. Happ and a maturing Taijuan Walker and the overall success of last season — winning 87 games and missing the playoffs by one game — Seattle has become the chic pick to not only win the American League West but also make it to the World Series.

“We’ve got the team to go all of the way,” Hernandez said. “We look good on paper. We’ve just got to go out there and execute and do our thing. That’s all.”

It is without a doubt the best roster the Mariners have fielded since the early 2000s. Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik tried to build off last season’s somewhat surprising success by addressing weaknesses like middle-of-the-order production and starting pitching depth.

When Hernandez signeda $175 million, seven-year contract extension to stay with the Mariners, he was promised by ownership they would put the proper pieces around him for team success. They’ve done that.

“It feels a little different, well, a lot of different,” Hernandez said. “We’ve improved our offense. We’re bringing in Nelson Cruz and veteran hitters to put with guys like Cano, Seager and all those guys. It feels different. The clubhouse feels nice, it feels fun and we want to win. That’s what we’re here for.”

It starts with Hernandez — the unquestioned face of the Mariners’ franchise and team leader. He will be making his seventh straight opening-day start for Seattle and the eighth of his career. He’s got a 5-0 record and 1.52 earned-run average in those starts.

“It always means a lot,” Hernandez said. “Opening day is opening day. It’s the start of a new season.”

It really should be his eighth straight opening-day start, but then-manager John McLaren inexplicably had Erik Bedard start opening day for Seattle in 2008.

Of those seven starts, the last and only time he started an opening day in Seattle was in 2007. There was no King’s Court cheering section back then, but there will be this time.

“I can’t wait to see that,” he said. “Oh man, that’s going to be unbelievable. That’s going to be crazy.”

It’s the first game of 162. The Mariners have not shied away from talking about expectations. There is no point in ignoring them. They are real for a reason. Players like Cano, Cruz and Hernandez have been asked about them constantly this spring. But they shrug them off. They believe they are good, which is more important than what outsiders think.

“We don’t need to listen to people’s expectations,” Hernandez said. “We need to just go out there and play.”

And all that preseason hype isn’t any added incentive or motivation. The Mariners say they don’t need it.

“We’re hungry to win,” Hernandez said. “That’s what we are here for.”

Opening day lineup
Here’s how the Mariners are expected to line up today against the Angels:
Player Pos.
1 Austin Jackson CF
2 Seth Smith RF
3 Robinson Cano 2B
4 Nelson Cruz DH
5 Kyle Seager 3B
6 Logan Morrison 1B
7 Mike Zunino C
8 Dustin Ackley LF
9 Brad Miller SS
P Felix Hernandez RHP