In position to pass Oakland and possibly take over sole possession of the lead in the AL wild-card race, the Seattle Mariners will turn to their ace to help make it happen.
Looking to improve to 5-0 against the Athletics this season, Felix Hernandez tries to help the Mariners to a fourth consecutive victory over their division rivals Saturday night at Safeco Field.James Paxton pitched six strong innings and Robinson Cano, Kendrys Morales and Logan Morrison each homered as Seattle (80-66) moved within one-half game of the wild-card-leading A's with a 4-2 victory Friday."I told my guys, this is real simple. This is really playoff baseball," Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Averages, slumps, all those things are out the window. What you did against a guy last time really makes no difference. It's all about grinding your at-bats out, staying in your inner circle and believing in each other."If you do that, you have a good chance to get it done."Tied with Kansas City for the second wild-card spot, the Mariners continue to put pressure on Oakland, which has dropped 12 of 15 and totaled three runs during its current three-game overall skid."The way we are playing right now, I don't think one loss is paramount over another," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "We just have to find a way to win some games."Things likely won't get any easier for the A's (81-66) against Hernandez (14-5, 2.12 ERA), who allowed a homer to Adam Dunn and two other hits over eight innings of a 2-1 road victory Sept. 3 to improve to 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in five starts against them in 2014."It's fun to do that," said Hernandez, who is 6-1 with a 1.85 ERA in his last eight outings versus Oakland.The right-hander has allowed only that Dunn homer over 14 innings to go 1-0 in two outings since he gave up five runs and 10 hits in seven innings of an 8-3 home loss to Washington on Aug. 29.Hernandez yielded five hits, struck out eight and overcame four walks over six scoreless innings of a 4-1 victory over Houston on Monday."Felix battled all night," McClendon said. "In the end, he got six innings in, no runs. Shows how great he is."Cano is batting .421 in the last five contests and .444 with two home runs and eight RBIs in seven home games against the A's.Though Cano is 4 for 12 with a double versus Sonny Gray (13-8, 3.22), the right-hander has allowed one earned run and struck out 22 over 19 2/3 innings in going 3-0 at Safeco.Including two of those starts, Gray gave up five runs -- two earned -- over 20 2/3 innings to win his first three outings versus Seattle this season before he allowed six runs in five innings of a 6-5 home defeat to the Mariners on Sept. 2.He followed that effort by giving up three runs in seven innings of a 5-4, 12-inning loss to the Chicago White Sox on Monday.Oakland's Josh Donaldson had an RBI on Friday, but is batting .143 with 18 strikeouts in 17 games against the Mariners this season.He's 5 for 30 with eight strikeouts versus Hernandez.It's uncertain when Oakland catcher Geovany Soto will be available after he left Friday's game with back spasms.
At the end of play on Aug. 9, the Athletics led the American League with a 72-44 record that put them 11 games ahead of Seattle, then the first team out of the playoff picture. The Mariners enter play tonight tied for the final AL Wild Card spot with the Royals, but today the A's are just a half game ahead of them.