SEATTLE — While the Texas Rangers continue rolling toward the postseason and the possibility of finishing with the best record in the American League, the Seattle Mariners are on the verge of playing for the future.
Sitting 11 1/2 games behind the Rangers in the AL West and four behind Baltimore in the wild-card race, Seattle (71-68) has one eye on evaluation as the Mariners close out a once-promising season. One of the questions at the top of the list involves young starters Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, neither of whom have done a lot to impress the first-year regime of general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais.
The 24-year-old Walker, once considered the top prospect in Seattle's organization, will get another shot in Thursday's series finale against the Rangers (83-57).
Walker began this season as the No. 2 starter behind Felix Hernandez but fell so far out of favor that he did an August stint at Triple-A Tacoma. He turned in a couple of decent outings after getting recalled, but Walker's three-homer debacle in less than an inning his last time out might have the organization rethinking his future as a front-line starter.
Another Seattle starter who has a lot to prove is 27-year-old rookie Ariel Miranda, who turned in the best start of his career in beating the Rangers on Wednesday. Miranda He held the mighty Texas lineup to three runs (all unearned) and three hits in six innings.
“Obviously, the team helped me out a lot with some runs early,” Miranda, who took an 8-0 lead into the fifth inning, said through an interpreter, “and that made it easy for me to be aggressive.”
Walker's start is one of the few lingering storylines for the Mariners, who made up a game in the wild-card race Wednesday night but still has a lot of teams to pass on the way to the finish line.
Texas, on the other hand, is still trying to win the top seed in the AL and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Rangers still hold a two-game lead over Cleveland but can't afford to lose too many more games against inferior teams from the division down the stretch.
Wednesday's game saw Texas turn in another rough outing from its starting pitcher, only this time the offense couldn't pick him up. A.J. Griffin gave up five runs in the first inning, and by the time the Rangers finally got on the board with Carlos Beltran's three-run homer in the sixth, Texas was trailing 8-3.
Afterward, manager Jeff Banister was already eager to turn the page toward Thursday's series finale.
“Obviously, we need to come out and play good baseball, put another win on the board and move on to (the weekend series in) Anaheim,” he said.
Thursday's series finale also marks the final times these two teams will meet this season. Texas has already won the season series, as the Rangers take a 12-6 advantage into Thursday.