M's ride Tigers' sweep into Toronto

Miguel Olivo, of the Seattle Mariners, rounds third after hitting a fourth-inning home run against...

Miguel Olivo, of the Seattle Mariners, rounds third after hitting a fourth-inning home run against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Thursday. Seattle won the game 5-4. (GETTY)

Bill Lankhof, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 7:08 PM ET

The Seattle Mariners may not yet be able to compete with the Texas bully-boys of the American League West.

But there is evidence that the youth movement is starting to grow into something promising. Perhaps not yet contenders. But no longer sad sacks either as they come into Toronto after a three-game sweep of the Tigers.

This is still a team that is looking for an identity, other than former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez; it still is an offence under construction, but no longer is this a team that looks to be playing out of its league.

Rather than looking to the past with players such as Carl Everett, Ken Griffey Jr. or Jack Cust, this is now a club that belongs to Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero. It is just taking them time to realize it themselves.

But, it’s coming. They already rank among the league’s elite in defence, a .991 percentage going into Friday’s game being tops in the AL.

“We talk about it,” manager Eric Wedge told reporters earlier this year. “You work to have a clean game. And it starts with pitching and defence. As I’ve said so many times, our offence is going to continue to come along. It’s still inconsistent, but ... you’ve got to pitch and you’ve got to catch the ball. That’s a big part of it.”

Last season, the Mariners averaged the fewest runs (3.17) of any team in the designated hitter era. To complicate that, they were the fifth-worst fielding team in the American League, committing 108 errors. So far in 2012 they’re on pace for 54.

So, it’s coming. Brandon League, who got his seventh save Thursday afternoon, and Tom Wilhelmsen, now anchor the back end of the bullpen. Both threw scoreless innings to preserve Thursday’s 5-4 win.

So, it’s coming. But this is still a team that sputters offensively. They lost five of their last six in the most recent homestand and the reasons are obvious. Through 19 games, the Mariners rank 10th in the AL in batting average (.241), 13th in on-base percentage (.292), 13th in slugging (.362) and 13th in OPS (.654). They had a .248 team batting average and had been out-homered 22-13.

But they snapped a four-game losing skid in Detroit in convincing fashion. In the series finale Friday, Chone Figgins looked like a leadoff hitter with three hits; a day earlier, Alex Liddi belted a two-run homer, Ackley had three hits and three runs batted in, and Montero drove in two runs in a 9-1 victory.

Thursday, Smoak busted out of a slump with a first-inning three-run homer. So, it’s coming.

Perhaps not often enough to be taken seriously as a division champion, but it is happening just enough to make them a pest.

And, for confirmation, all the Blue Jays have to do is look down the 401 where the Tigers — supposed contenders — are still trying to figure out what happened.

HOT & COLD

--Dustin Ackley, went 3-for-6 with a double and three RBIs, filling in for Chone Figgins at leadoff Wednesday. He bumped his batting average to .263 Thursday.

--In the sweep of Detroit, Alex Liddi had homers in back to back games for the first time in his career.

--Right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen has become the staff workhorse, allowing just three earned runs in 13 innings, in 11 games.

-- Former Blue Jay Brandon League recorded his seventh save Thursday.

--First baseman Justin Smoak hit a homerun Thursday to snap an 0-for-15 skid but he is still batting below the Mendoza Line at .197.

--The M’s aren’t getting much offensively from the shortstop position. Brendan Ryan is batting just .163 while Munenori Kawasaki had just 3 hits in 19 at-bats.

---The Mariners have been vulnerable to the home-run ball surrendering 23 in 20 games.

SERIES STARTERS

Friday, 7:07 p.m. RHP Blake Beavan, vs. RHP Ricky Romero

Saturday 4:07 p.m. RHP Kevin Millwood, RHP vs. RHP Brandon Morrow

Sunday, 1:07 p.m. LHP Jason Vargas vs. RHP Henderson Alvarez

FRIDAY’S PITCHER

Blake Beavan

Beavan has three quality starts with just two walks in 19 1/3 innings, but the lack of offensive support that plagued the M’s last season has once again been evident (except maybe when they play the Tigers). Lack of offensive support was never more evident than in his last outing, when Philip Humber pitched a perfect game for the White Sox.

LANKHOF’S TAKE

The Jays avoid ace and former Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez in this series, but that may be the only advantage they have going into this series. While the Jays’ bats were mostly silenced in Baltimore, the Mariners came alive in Detroit.

The Mariners recorded a season-high 15 hits in back to back wins against Detroit. Then in the series finale Thursday, Justin Smoak pulled out of a hitting funk with a three-run homer.

Normally, coming home to face the bottom-feeding Mariners would be considered the closest thing a team gets to a walkover. And, prior to their series with the Tigers they looked a lot like the club that scuffled through 101 and 95-loss seasons. In a five game stretch, the Mariners blew an eight-run lead, threw away a magnificent start by Hernandez, allowed Philip Humber to go 27-up, 27-down, and were swept at the hands of the White Sox.

And, for all of the Jays’ own issues, Toronto does start the series with their one-two punch of Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.

PREDICTION

Toronto lost four of its last six on the most recent homestand, then got handcuffed by the O’s. Nothing optimistic in that.

Meantime, after being no-hit, the M’s have responded by batting .325 in the next three games, “It’s been a lot of fun to watch these guys the last couple of days,” Wedge said. “These guys come out here with a lot of energy every day, and it’s good to see. It’s what we’re looking for.”

But definitely not what Toronto is looking for so — against all odds — Mariners win two of three.

 

 


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