Mariners' streak: different star every game
The Mariners take their eight-game winning streak to Chicago this weekend for a series with the White Sox.
It's their longest winning streak in five years. KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says it's significant in more ways than one.
Art says he did not expect to see the Mariners this successful at this point in the season.
"The pitching has been good all year long - both in the starters and the bullpen - and the defense has been the American League's best. So, they had two elements of it but they were so woeful in the third that it just seemed hopeless."
We're talking offense. Art says three products of the Mariners' farm system - Michael Saunders, Kyle Seager and Dustin Ackley - have struggled at the plate at various points this season. But during the streak, they seemed to have come alive.
And he says there have been some welcome new additions.
"They've acquired a couple of guys in John Jaso - he was an offseason pick-up from Tampa, a catcher - and Eric Thames who is an outfielder who they picked up in a mid-season trade with Toronto. These two guys are a lot more capable than I think anyone anticipated and so they've really been carrying a lot."
Some earlier acquisitions have also stepped up in a big way recently: Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Casper Wells. Art says all of the players he's mentioned have shined during the streak - and at different times, which is key.
"What we've seen over the last eight games was one of them stepping up with a big at-bat. And that is all you need when the Mariners are pitching this well. One guy doing one thing well in one game, stringing it together, and you've got a credible team. And the Mariners now, at 24-13 since the All-Star break, have been the hottest team in the American League. And THAT I did not see coming."
Felix the fearless leader
After last week's perfect game, Felix Hernandez had another win this week in a game that saw more than 39,000 fans at Safeco Field, most of whom were wearing yellow "King of Perfection" shirts and waving yellow "K" strikeout placards.
Art says there was an electricity in the air that's been missing at Safeco Field for a long time.
"It was a great event. The fans were there to say thank you to Felix. And Felix has become this year - and, really, he's been building toward this - an emotionally popular player. And he's taken the leadership role in a way that you rarely see from a starting pitcher. And it was really manifested in that game. I don't think the people were really expecting perfection. They wanted to say thank you. And that was a great way for the Mariners to start to reconnect to that alienated fan base that they've created over the last several years."
For the first time this year, a second wild card team will make it to the playoffs in the American and National leagues. Can the Mariners make it to the playoffs ? Art says they enter the weekend three games under .500 and seven games back in the Wild Card hunt.
"Not an insurmountable lead, but it took them this much great play to get to this point. And they also have to leapfrog three teams in order to get there. And that fifth team happens to be, right now, the Oakland A's - the hated Oakland A's who shouldn't have ever been any part of this."
But a star pitcher for the A's is now out for the rest of the season. Former Cy Young Award winner Bartolo Colon was suspended this week after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Details have been reported by USA Today and several other media outlets.
Art says that's good news for the Mariners - since they play the A's a lot in the last few games of the season.
"He did a really dumb thing and it's hurt the A's big time. So, maybe every 17 years or so the Mariners have a miracle. Maybe it's this year."
You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest.