The Mariners took a major step forward this week, winning a series in New York for the first time since 2004. They improved to 20-21, taking sole possession of second place in the AL West (still seven games behind Texas, though). Perhaps most impressive, they did it while losing a Felix Hernandez start and winning a game started by Hector Noesi. Here are five things the Mariners showed in the three-game series.
1. Born this way
This catchy and horrid Lady Gaga anthem could easily become Raul Ibanez’s walk-up music at new Yankee Stadium, as he showed in the first two games that he was born to hit in the Bronx. In those two contests, Raul went 4-for-9 with three homer runs and eight RBI. Sure, he threw up a nasty 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Thursday, but the guy kills in Yankee Stadium. Brian Cashman is probably kicking himself about not re-signing Raul this offseason.
2. Morse back on his horse
Michael Morse now has two hits in each of his last four games, and has raised his batting average from .225 to .261. On Thursday, he hit his tenth home run of the season, a massive swat that carried way out to right centerfield and held up as the game-winning run in a 3-2 victory. On Monday, Geoff Baker called for Morse to pick up his game. Morse did just that in the Bronx, consistently putting the Mariners in positions to score runs, or in the case of Thursday, taking matters into his own, gigantic, beastly hands.
3. Bullpen one of baseball’s best
Disclaimer: I have no statistical evidence to back this up. The Mariners are 19th in bullpen ERA, eighth in batting average against and eleventh in saves. None of that really jumps off the page. But when Charlie Furbush blew the game for Felix in the seventh inning Tuesday, it was only the second time the Mariners bullpen had blown a save all year. Fast forward to Thursday, where the bullpen amounted for all nine innings in a win no baseball realist expected.
The Mariners have a rising young setup man in Carter Capps, and lethal left-handed out pitcher in Oliver Perez, and a closer with perhaps baseball’s nastiest 12-6 curve in Tom Wilhelmsen. Couple that with Yoervis Medina’s solid middle relief, Lucas Luetge’s lefty specialty and Noesi in spot starts, and you have a ‘pen that can hold it together in crunch time, like they did all throughout Thursday’s win. When Stephen Pryor and Josh Kinney come back, the M’s might just have one of baseball’s premier relief squads.
4. King and Kuma the best around
This one doesn’t come attached with a debate: Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have formed the best 1-2 punch in baseball so far in 2o13, bar none. Felix’s 1.53 ERA ranks him first in the American League; Kuma’s 1.84 mark has him third. Felix leads the league in innings pitched; Kuma ranks sixth. Felix is third in the AL in WHIP at 0.93; Iwakuma’s 0.78 WHIP leads the pack by a wide margin. For sabermatricians out there, Felix is tops in AL starter WAR, while Kuma is third. They are the prized thoroughbred horses at the top of the Mariner rotation, and the M’s would be nowhere without their success.
5. Middle mark looming tonight
Another result of the series win, the Mariners’ fifth in their last six, is the chance to reach the .500 mark for the first time since the first series of the season with a win in Cleveland Friday. Brandon Maurer takes the hill against Ubaldo Jimenez, as the rookie tries to save an exhausted Mariner bullpen with his first career road quality start. First pitch is at 4:05 PT.