The Mariners on Sunday looked like a team ready to put together the hot streak that has eluded them for five months.
Robinson Cano and Mitch Haniger each had four hits as the Mariners swept the Oakland A’s. Left-handed starter Andrew Albers pitched six strong innings, and though the 10-2 score suggested the bullpen wasn’t a factor, the game was decided when reliever Nick Vincent snuffed a rally with two on and nobody out in the eighth inning.
“A lot of hits, a lot of offense, a lot of pressure on the other team,” said manager Scott Servais. “That’s what it’s going to take, because we’ve got a lot of big games ahead of us.”
Specifically, the Mariners have the playoff-bound Houston Astros ahead of them for a three-game series at Safeco Field that begins Monday. The Astros will start former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel in the opener, then former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander. Lance McCullers, resembling a future Cy Young Award winner, goes Wednesday before the Angels show up for a crucial series that could decide whether the next home stand – the last of the season – is relevant.
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Servais has stressed the importance of consistently winning at least two times in every three game series, but that could be setting the bar too low. With 25 games remaining, the Mariners need to get on the kind of roll that turns a 69-68 record into, say, an 86-76 finish.
Their longest winning streak of 2017 is six games, which preceded a four-game losing streak in late June. With nine teams still fighting for a pair of wild-card spots, a four-game losing streak could be fatal.
On the other hand, the Mariners, seen dragging their feet last week during the second half of an interminable East Coast road trip, seem to have regained their energy.
Some of that energy has been supplied by Albers, acquired last month from in Atlanta in an off-the-radar deal that has the look of a steal. With three wins in four decisions – his only loss was that error-fest in Yankee Stadium last weekend – the 31-year old native of North Battleford, Saskatchewan is a journeyman living the dream.
“He’s Canadian, got some edge to him,” said Servais, pointing out how easily Albers has fit into the clubhouse.
“The way we’re playing, it’s a lot of fun now,” Albers said after holding the A’s to one hit, Matt Olson’s solo homer in the top of the sixth. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.
“For a guy like me who’s been around a little bit, you don’t know how often you’re going to get this opportunity. All these games are important, and that’s what is making the season so fun right now. The last month is going to be a blast with, what, eight teams in the mix? Who gets hot is who’s going to end up on top. We’re right there.”
I asked Servais if he believed his team is capable of a September roll.
“I certainly hope so,” he answered. “We’ve been kind of up and down and all over the map as this season has played out, but we’ve got a very resilient club. The guys know where we are at this point and what it’s going to take.
“Nobody is 100 percent physically or mentally because we’ve gone through such a long season,” Servais continued. “But the team that’s going to be standing at the end is the team that wants it the worst. I think our guys want to be that club.”
The Mariners have been that club before. On Sept. 7, 1995, their record was 62-61. They went 16-5 down the stretch, forcing a one-game playoff against the Angels for the A.L. West title.
From mediocre to miraculous, and all it took was a three-week run.
The 2017 schedule, by the way, concludes with a road series against – who else? – the Angels.
“We’ve taken different ways to get here,” said Servais, “but we’re one game over .500 with a couple of big series coming up.”
How much Albers will continue to contribute remains unknown, but Sunday the career minor leaguer offered an explanation for his late-season success.
“I don’t like losing,” he said. “I’m a sore loser.”