Mariners streaking towards playoff contention

Seattle fans: Put your Rally Caps on!

7/24/13 in MLB   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Blog Photo - Mariners streaking towards playoff contention13 days ago, they were sitting at 40-52, looking to be right on pace for their 8th sub-.500 finish in the last 10 seasons.  But lately, things have been different for the Seattle Mariners, winners of 8 straight.  At 48-52, the club is looking to complete their third consecutive sweep today, hosting the Cleveland Indians.  They’re still 10 games back of the first place Athletics, but a game ahead of the underperforming Angels, and if the trends continue in Seattle, the team may have an opportunity to squeak into the playoff picture.
 
So what has been the secret in Seattle?
 
Manager Eric Wedge recently shuffled the lineup around and even though his changes weren’t drastic, they seem to be having an immediate effect on the team’s offensive output.
 
Outfielders Endy Chavez and Michael Saunders had spent the majority of the first half of the season leading things off for the team, but recently, Wedge has inserted rookie shortstop Brad Miller into the leadoff spot.  Miller offers a bit more versatility than the two outfielders.  21 games into his big league career, he’s walked 11 times, scored 12 runs, and recorded an impressive 14 RBIs.  Though he’s only hitting .247, his .337 on base percentage and timely hits have helped re-fuel the Mariners offense.
 
Third baseman Kyle Seager, one of the team’s most promising young hitters, spent most of the first half of the season in the second and third spots in the lineup.  Yet now, Wedge has him batting 5th, a slot behind slugger Kendrys Morales.  Seager has recorded a hit in all but 2 games so far in July and has upped his average from .268 at the end of June to .292 going into today’s game.
 
Seager, Morales, and Raul Ibanez have been the team’s top bats this year and with Ibanez’s power now in the 3-spot as opposed to hitting 5th after Morales, the team poses more of a threat to bring runs home early.  Slowly emerging prospect Justin Smoak has also started to give the team some support from the 6th spot in the lineup.  He’s reached base safely in all but 2 of his starts in July and has really given the team a lot more depth at the plate.
 
From a pitching standpoint, the Mariners have gotten great production from their bullpen.  Rookie middle reliever Yoervis Medina hasn’t allowed a run since June 26th, posting a 2.11 ERA on the season and fellow middle reliever Oliver Perez has been equally impressive with his 1.98 ERA on the year.  While third-year reliever, second-year closer Tom Wilhelmsen had some tough outings in May and June, he hasn’t blown a save since June 18th, converting 7 straight save opportunities.
 
Jul 13, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Felix Hernandez (34) reacts to the Mariners getting the final out of the 8th inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Safeco Field. Seattle defeated Los Angeles 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY SportsOf course King Felix has steadied the starting rotation, again proving to be one of the top arms in all the league with his 2.43 ERA (1st in the AL) and 147 strikeouts (3rd in the AL).  He’s received solid rotation support from second-year starter Hisashi Iwakuma, whose quietly posted a 2.99 ERA with a 9-4 record on the year.  3rd starter Joe Saunders has been mostly inconsistent and 4th starter Aaron Harang has struggled to find his groove all year, so rotation depth is definitely a big question.
 
Can they keep the hot streak going?
 
I think they have all the pieces in place to continue making a run in the second half of 2013.  They don’t have as much firepower as the Rangers or Angels, or as much pitching depth as the Athletics, but they have enough assets working in their favor right now that the AL West crown could be within reach.  The main question may be whether the Athletics and Rangers can keep winning, and the Mariners will have something to say about that with 2 series against both teams in the season’s closing months.
 
Playoff run or not, the team’s shown a lot of promise in the past few weeks and given their fans something to look forward to going into the future.
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