After his Seattle Mariners took two of three from the reeling Oakland Athletics last week, manager Lloyd McClendon shared some reasons why he felt his club has been able to draw closer to its AL West rivals down the stretch.
McClendon especially pointed to the majors' stingiest pitching staff, which looks to help Seattle improve its playoff chances as James Paxton takes the mound Friday night in the opener of a crucial three-game series with the A's at Safeco Field.Oakland held a four-game lead atop the division and an 11-game edge on third-place Seattle on Aug. 9, but the A's (81-65) have since dropped 21 of 30 and now are clinging to the top wild-card slot by a single game.They've lost 9 1/2 games in the standings to the Mariners (79-66), who are one-half game back of Detroit for the second wild card. Seattle has won each of the teams' last three series after taking the final two meetings in Oakland on Sept. 2 and 3."We know we can beat them. I think we match up pretty well," McClendon said after that three-game set. "We've got a few bullets to throw at them when we toe the rubber, so we like our chances."The Mariners have a baseball-best 3.01 ERA despite having lost three of four after falling 5-2 to Houston on Wednesday.Paxton (5-2, 1.87 ERA) started the first of those defeats but couldn't be blamed, allowing one run in six innings of Sunday's 1-0 loss at Texas. He also pitched well in beating the A's five days earlier, giving up two runs and four hits in a career-best 7 2/3 innings of a 6-5 victory.The left-hander, who made his major league debut last September, is 8-2 with a 1.75 ERA in 13 career starts -- seven since missing nearly four months with a lat strain. He's 4-0 with a 1.45 ERA in five starts at Safeco.Paxton will look to keep the A's off balance again after they mustered just three hits in a 1-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Thursday. Oakland lost three of four in the series and have dropped 11 of 14 overall to fall 9 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the West."We're playing for our lives now," manager Bob Melvin said. "We put ourselves in this position."The A's have scored three runs or fewer in 24 of 39 games since trading Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for starter Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes on July 31."For the better part of four months, we've been a real good offensive team, and for a month and whatever it is here, we haven't," Melvin said. "We've been two different teams."Oakland's quest to solidify its rotation also yielded Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija in a trade with the Chicago Cubs on July 4, and Hammel (2-5, 4.70) has come on lately after a slow start with his new club.The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last six outings. He gave the A's their only victory in the last series with the Mariners, giving up one run and three hits in eight innings to win the opener 6-1.Hammel allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings before Oakland gave up two in the ninth of a 4-3 loss to Houston on Sunday.He'll face a Seattle lineup that could have Dustin Ackley after he missed the last four games with a sore left ankle.Oakland is expected to activate closer Sean Doolittle, who has been on the disabled list since Aug. 24 with a rib injury.
James Paxton has thrown his fastball 67.8 percent of the time since re-entering the Mariners' rotation on Aug. 2, the 14th-highest rate in MLB in that span. The Athletics are hitting .256 in at-bats ending in a fastball since the All-Star break, the ninth-worst rate in MLB.