Turning the Tide
Less than three weeks ago, the Seattle Mariners were in a proverbial free fall. The Mariners dropped consecutive series at Oakland and Texas to start the season and lost the home opener to Oakland to open a nine-game homestand.
Sitting at 2-6, the Seattle Mariners were down, but not out. Many fans wondered, however, if the Mariners' 2010 season had died in early April.
Now three weeks later, the Seattle Mariners have proverbially gotten back on their feet. Since the 2-6 start, the Mariners have won series against Oakland, Detroit, and Kansas City and completed a three-game sweep against the Baltimore Orioles. Despite falling victim to a three-game series against the Chicago White Sox, the Mariners now sit on an 11-11 record near the end of April.
Had you talked to any Mariners fan after the home-opening loss against Oakland, in which the Mariners offense managed to produce just two hits, they would been ecstatic at the potential of an 11-11 record. After all, the prospects at that time were far worse.
After the home opener, Cliff Lee was both injured and facing a pending suspension, Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins were a combined 14-for-59 (.237), and cleanup hitter Milton Bradley was a preposterous 1-for-22 on the season (.045).
Since that loss to Oakland, however, the Mariners' fortunes have changed. Lee progressed through rehab in time to make an April return, Ichiro is 22-for-55 (.400) over the last 13 games, and Bradley is 10-for-31 (.323) over the last 15 games, slugging .548 in that stretch.
Of course, several other players have factored into the Mariners' success. The starting pitching has been markedly better, surprisingly led by Doug Fister, and Franklin Gutierrez and Casey Kotchman have been phenomenal so far this season.
The Upcoming Series and Its Implications for the Seattle Mariners
Having reversed a downward spiral from the first few weeks, the Seattle Mariners now enter what could turn out to be the most important series of the 2010 series.
At 11-11, the Mariners sit a half game back of co-division leaders Texas and Oakland. This weekend, the Mariners have a chance to jump the Texas Rangers, and with a little help, they could jump the Oakland Athletics as well. It's worth noting that the A's have cooled off substantially over the past few weeks, dropping seven of their last 10 games.
Aside from division standings, this game also marks the season debut of heralded free agent acquisition and former Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. As previously mentioned, Lee's 2010 season has faced numerous obstacles, but he is prepared to make his season debut tonight in the pitcher-friendly confines of Safeco Field.
The Mariners have their best arms guiding them in the upcoming series. Lee takes the mound tonight, Felix Hernandez is on the hill tomorrow, and Fister, who is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA over his last three starts, is scheduled to pitch on Sunday.
The Texas Rangers, meanwhile, have recently faced a series of obstacles. Within the past week the Rangers optioned 1B Chris Davis to Triple-A Oklahoma City, placed All-Star OF Nelson Cruz, who was top-five in the American League in home runs, runs batted in, and slugging percentage, on the disabled list, and watched RP Neftali Feliz throw four innings to earn a 13.50 ERA, a loss, and a blown save.
On a positive note for the Rangers, All-Star 2B Ian Kinsler returns from the disabled list this weekend. He returns from an ankle sprain suffered in spring training, however, and skeptics have questioned whether he is ready to play at full strength.
With a division up for grabs, a division rival in town, and the debut of the much-anticipated Lee-Hernandez pitching duo, the upcoming series against the Texas Rangers may provide a glimpse into the Mariners' 2010 chance of success.
Yes, it is only one series, but this series has implications that could stick with the Seattle Mariners for the rest of the season—for better or worse.