Don't count out the Seattle Mariners.
Yes, the 66-55 M's are looking up at both the 71-49 Los Angeles Angels and 73-49 Oakland A's in the American League West. But in this era of the second wild card, third place can be good enough.
If everything were settled today, the Mariners would be baseball's most unlikely October-bound team. (They currently have the AL's second wild-card spot and are a half-game up on the Tigers.)
They won Friday much the way they've won all season: behind solid pitching and Robinson Cano's bat. Cano, 31, signed with the Mariners in December for a 10-year, $240 million deal after playing his first nine years in the majors with the New York Yankees.
In plating six runs against sinkerballer Rick Porcello (five earned), the Mariners enjoyed a rare offensive outburst that included contributions up and down the lineup.
Third baseman Kyle Seager and first baseman Logan Morrison each collected two hits and an RBI. So did Chris Taylor, a late-July call-up who has hit .385 in 18 games.
Seattle starter James Paxton went six innings, allowing just one earned run, and has now won all six of his big league decisions dating back to last year.
Center fielder Austin Jackson, who was traded to the Mariners in the three-team blockbuster that sent ace left-hander David Price to Detroit, got a nice ovation in his return to the Motor City (though he also went 0-for-5).
The star of the night, though, was Cano, who went 2-for-4, scored twice and yanked a solo shot over the right field wall.
The home run was just the 11th of the season for Cano. Still, he's hitting .330, second best in the majors behind Houston's Jose Altuve (.334), and living up to the massive contract that brought him from the Big Apple to the birthplace of Starbucks.
There was a little sour mixed in with the sweet: Cano exited the game in the eighth inning with a sore foot, per MLB.com's Matt Slovin.
It's always concerning to see a star player hobbled, but skipper Lloyd McClendon insisted it was a precautionary move.
"He should be OK [Saturday]," McClendon told Slovin. "I just didn't want to take a chance. Hopefully, it doesn't swell."
If Cano does take the field Saturday, he'll face Price, the deadline acquisition who was supposed to push the Tigers into the American League's upper echelon.
Instead, Detroit has floundered. The 65-55 Tigers currently trail the 67-54 Kansas City Royals in the AL Central, and now they're looking up at the Mariners, too.
"We're in it," Seager told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune. "We feel really good about our chances down the stretch."
It's far too early to count out the Tigers, who could get rotation cogs Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez and closer Joakim Soria back this month, per MLB.com. And other teams, including the 63-60 Toronto Blue Jays and 61-59 Yankees, are hanging around in the wild-card chase.
But Seattle, a quiet contender all season, suddenly looks formidable.
The Mariners need Cano at full health, no question. But he's not their only weapon. Consider the guy they'll send to the hill Saturday to counter Price: Felix Hernandez and his American League-leading 1.95 ERA.
Here's how ESPN's Jim Caple (h/t ABC News) summed up Seattle's surprising surge before Friday's game:
Here they are, with the best pitching in the majors, coming off an 8-1 homestand, 10 games above .500 and with a real chance to take some attention away from the Seahawks in October. They might be in third place in the AL West ... but baseball's best division could provide three postseason teams.
The thought of the Mariners making the postseason for the first time since 2001's 116-46 team, and competing with the reigning Super Bowl champs for attention, would've sounded foolish to all but the most ardent believers a few months ago.
Now, it's looking like we'd all be foolish to count them out.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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