Surging Mariners hope to keep 2nd half rolling
For much of his first two seasons as manager of the Seattle Mariners, Eric Wedge has preached exactly what his team has practiced over the past month.
And while the Mariners' second-half surge is realistically too late to make a push for this postseason, it's at least giving hope that Seattle's rebuilding plan is finally progressing.
The Mariners are coming off sweeps of Minnesota and Cleveland at home. They've won a season-high eight straight games - their longest winning streak since 2007 - and have the best record in baseball since the All-Star break at 25-13.
Even more impressive is how the Mariners have turned around their struggles at home. Seattle has won 15 of its last 16 home games after being 11 games below .500 at home in late July.
''It's fun baseball right now and we're starting to get that feeling that (Wedge) has kind of been looking for out of us these past couple of years,'' shortstop Brendan Ryan said. ''It's coming to the field expecting to win and that's the vibe in the clubhouse and everybody is having fun and we're all feeding off each other. It's just a real good vibe we have going right now.''
It's easy to dismiss some of Seattle's recent success because of the teams they've beaten up on. They swept the Indians, Twins, Blue Jays and Royals, all at home.
But they took two of three on the road from both Tampa Bay and the Los Angeles Angels, the latter of which was part of an impressive rebound after losing five straight earlier this month. The Mariners are 10-1 since dropping the first game of their series against the Angels.
They're doing it with youth. The starting lineup Wedge has mostly relied on of late features just two players in their 30s - Ryan (30) and catcher Miguel Olivo (34).
''It's a mindset, it's an approach, it's an attitude,'' Wedge said. ''But having said that, you put yourself in a position where emotionally, mentally, you go out there and play aggressive with more of a tension-free approach where your mind and your fundamentals can work well together. I think we have a lot of people who are headed in that direction.''
The crowning moment of the recent run was Felix Hernandez's perfect game against Tampa Bay on Aug. 15. And while that is a moment that will live in Mariners history forever - and knowing the franchise, be capitalized on with regularity - it was his next start that had greater meaning.
The night was meant to celebrate Hernandez with special T-shirts and commemorative placards. But even the Mariners were taken aback by getting a crowd of nearly 40,000 for a random Tuesday night game against Cleveland.
''I hope it doesn't take another perfect game to fill up the seats like that,'' Ryan said.
Because the Mariners play in cavernous Safeco Field, they will always be a franchise that relies on its pitching. But even that has improved. A staff ERA that was already under 4 before the All-Star break has dipped to 3.67 after the last 38 games.
While their pitching has remained remarkably consistent for most of the season, it's at the plate where the Mariners have gotten going in the second half. The team batting average is 10 points higher, slugging is up 20 points and on-base percentage up 30 from before the All-Star break.
The trade of Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees unclogged a jam in the outfield and has allowed Trayvon Robinson and Eric Thames - acquired in a trade with Toronto - to play regularly. Since moving into the starting lineup on Aug. 3, Thames is hitting .283 with five doubles, two homers and a pair of game-winning RBIs after being mostly forgotten in the Blue Jays organization.
Seattle will begin a seven-game road trip on Friday in Chicago against the White Sox then travel to Minnesota. They enter the weekend seven games back in the AL wild card race. But more important for the franchise going forward is being just three games under .500 and looking legitimately at trying to finish the season with a winning record.
''I don't know what more it takes to get people excited about Mariner baseball,'' Ryan said. ''This is a pretty awesome second half we've got going here. Who knows where it'll end up, but all that matters is right now ... and we feel really good about the way we're playing.''