My fellow Seattle Mariners fans will back me up: It seems like we haven't seen too many stretches such as this in recent years. And by recent years, I mean 13 years.
After starting 2-6, the Mariners have gone 14-5 to take over first place in the AL West. Wednesday's win in Oakland was a rousing, come-from-behind victory after Felix Hernandez allowed eight runs in four-plus innings. Considering the Mariners had scored just nine runs for Felix in his first five starts, the game looked over with Seattle trailing 8-4.
Dae-Ho Lee, the Korean free agent by way of Japan who is built more along the lines of Bartolo Colon than of Jake Arrieta, slugged a solo home run in the sixth. Leonys Martin then manufactured a run with a bunt single, stolen base and error, and sacrifice fly. Another run made it 8-7, and then Lee did this against A's reliever John Axford in the seventh to give the Mariners a 9-8 lead. From there, the bullpen did its job, and the Mariners improved to 16-11.
In Seattle, a cult hero was born. For good measure, here are Lee's home run calls on Korean TV.
What kind of win was it for the Mariners? Nelson Cruz, who earlier in the game blasted a monster, 446-foot home run into the center-field seats above the big wall in Oakland -- one reader told me he lived four years in Oakland and never saw a ball hit up there -- said this:
Here's some uncharted territory for the Mariners: They're third in the AL in runs per game (heading into the evening games) and first in home runs. This from a franchise that hasn't finished better than 11th in the league in runs since 2007.
Even with the increased offense, a big key has been the bullpen, which was a huge question mark heading into the season. Projected setup man Joaquin Benoit has spent most of the season on the DL, but 40-year-old veteran Joel Peralta has stepped into the eighth-inning role and allowed just eight baserunners with 15 strikeouts in 12 innings. Closer Steve Cishek has converted all eight save opportunities -- with six of them coming with one-run leads -- and Nick Vincent, acquired late in spring training from the Padres, has a 1.74 ERA. So far, so good, though the bullpen just lost some depth with hard-throwing Tony Zych going to the DL with shoulder soreness.
Here's where I remind my fellow Mariners fans that it's a long, long season. Even bad teams can have stretches such as this. Look at the Mariners' best 19-game stretches since 2004, a period in which they've had just three winning seasons:
Still, there a lot of positive vibes coming from Seattle. A new front office, with Jerry Dipoto and new manager Scott Servais, is more analytically minded than the old regime, so the Mariners are shifting a lot more and trying to emphasize getting on base instead of just hitting home runs. It will be interesting to see what kind of moves Dipoto looks to make if Seattle stays in this thing.
Besides Cruz and Lee, the Mariners lineup leans left-handed (especially with Franklin Gutierrez not doing anything yet). The bullpen is due for some regression, and if Zych's injury is long-term, they might want to add help there. This is also an old team -- the second-oldest lineup in the AL and fourth-oldest pitching staff (via Baseball_Reference.com, weighted by playing time) -- so winning now is a priority.
For now, however, it's good times. The Mariners are 11-4 on the road, they've won six series in a row, and they head to Houston for a four-game series with a chance to put the division favorites in an even bigger hole.