Did you sleep in today? If so, you probably missed Hisashi Iwakuma and the Seattle Mariners putting the finishing touches on a two-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. That’s right, it’s noon on a Wednesday and the game’s already done. There’s no game tomorrow, so we really have two full days to stew in elation.
Five straight wins, and it’s not like the Mariners were playing any pushovers. They swept the Braves, finished up a delayed sweep of the Yankees, and won a pair against the Tigers. The result? Tied for second place in the American League, tied for the Wild Card lead. Tied for third-best run differential in the AL.
After 59 games, the Seattle Mariners have essentially been the Los Angeles Angels. They’re all tied up, and while the A’s still look borderline uncatchable, the M’s and Halos are starting to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Wild Card contenders. Not that anyone’s pulling away – the Orioles are a half game in the rearview, and there’s four months left for this to shake out – but Anaheim and Seattle are the only teams in the chase who are outscoring their opponents. They look like two of the league’s strongest teams, while the Yankees and Rangers… don’t.
Hisashi Iwakuma was the hero this morning, pitching seven shutout innings. Seven strikeouts, no walks, and six scattered singles. Dominant, ace-level performance from a pitcher who’s yet to be anything short of fantastic as a big leaguer. Yoervis Medina and Fernando Rodney each contributed a perfect inning to close out the game. This team is firing on all cylinders.
Mike Minor is a good starter, and today he pitched excellently – seven innings, ten strikeouts, three walks, five hits. Minor controlled the M’s aside from a fourth inning hiccup, where singles from Robinson Cano, inexplicable cleanup hitter Stefen Romero, and .303-hitting Cole Gillespie plated the game’s first run. Yeah, Romero hit cleanup – Lloyd’s got some weird lineups.
Except that for the second straight day, a strange deployment of Romero played huge dividends. In addition to being involved in the first M’s run, Romero hit an eighth-inning triple to set up run number two. It was Kyle Seager this time, dipping a single into right to score pinch-runner James Jones. McClendon does seem to be an enthusiastic fan of NL rules, given his tendency to unload his bench in search of every last situational advantage.
Those two runs were all the Mariners would need given the insane pitching performance they received. Even against top starters, the M’s are finding ways to win games. This winning streak has been awesome, as it’s showcased a clicking offense and unreal run prevention. The pitching has been amazing, except for the fifth spot. On fifth spot days, the M’s can just score seven no-big-deal runs. The defense has been strong all over the field, which is amazing given last year. Mike Minor? Pfffft. Max Scherzer can’t beat these M’s, you think Mike Minor has a chance? This team eats aces for breakfast.
And now we wait. Mariners baseball resumes in Tampa on Friday afternoon, with Chris Young facing off against old friend Erik Bedard. 4:10 start, or in other words, this game is 52 hours away. That’s a looooong layover, but the Mariners will at least be facing off against the AL’s worst team to date. The Rays and Red Sox were supposed to be the big dogs out east, but it’ June and both teams are under .500, and yeah, Tampa Bay’s been worse than Houston. Weird, but we’ll take it.
Might as well keep your eyes on the M’s competition the next couple days, since there’s nothing Seattle can do to help itself out before Friday. The A’s are throwing Jesse Chavez against New York’s Vidal Nuno tonight. Baltimore and Texas are playing, too, with Bud Norris and Nick Martinez on the mound. The Angels are throwing Garrett Richards against the Astros and Jarred Cosart. There you go, those are the games to watch. Four division rivals and two additional Wild Card contenders. The M’s aren’t playing, but the playoff picture will still be changing.
Savor this for what it is – the Mariners are good. They’ve played awesome and have the run differential and playoff position to show for it. The Angels have been hailed as one of the best teams in the game this season, and all their vitals are the same as Seattle’s. This is real. This is really, really real.