They play their 76th game of a 162-game season tonight, and the Seattle Mariners are once again pursuing not just the Texas Ranger but mediocrity.
Eric Wedge has accomplished quite a bit in the first half of 2011 - moving Milton Bradley, handling rookies from Michael Pineda to Dustin Ackley, dropping Chone Figgins in the lineup, then benching him. And through it all, he's had the Mariners near .500.
Considering the team lost 101 games a year ago, that's an extraordiinary improvement.
Through no fault of their own, however, the Mariners find themselves in second place in an American League West that has backed up to meet them.
If you'd said in spring training that Seattle would be 37-38 in their first 75 games, most Seattle fans would have taken it. And few would have thought that would put them ahead of Oakland and Los Angeles and just 2 1/2 games behind Texas.
For all that, the three-game series in Washington showed how fragile this team is. Great pitching isn't enough - in 21 innings in that Nationals series, Mariners starters allowed one earned run. Seattle lost all three.
Now they have one final home stand before the All-Star break, three games against Florida (33-42), three against Atlanta (43-33) and San Diego (32-44). One good team, two bad teams.
And there are the Mariners, somewhere in bewteen.
The team is batting .229. How bad is that? In May of 2010, the Mariners were batting .228, and general manager Jack Zduriencik fired batting coach Alan Cockrell. That may be an indication that despite their record, the Mariners aren't much better offensively than they were before firing two managers and two batting coaches a year ago.
This home stand will go a long way in determining how far they've come since then. If they can't beat bad teams at home, the second half of the season won't bring contention, just more disappointment.s