Seattle has not been quite as good since Mike Hargrove left, but enters Friday’s opener of a three-game set at Toronto in the thick of the playoff race.
The Mariners (53-39) won an eighth consecutive game and completed a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays (46-49) with a 2-1 victory on July 1. Earlier in the day, even with Seattle riding its best win streak since early in the 2003 season, Hargrove made a stunning announcement that he was resigning as manager.
Under new manager and former bench coach John McLaren, the Mariners have gone 8-6 to pull within two games of the first-place Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.
Seattle’s latest win, 6-5 over Baltimore on Wednesday, saw the team blow a four-run lead only to rally for the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.
“We’ve got the karma and presence in our team now that if something happens we’re going to battle through it,” McLaren said.
One key to Seattle’s surprising season - the club finished last in the AL West each of the previous three years - has been the dominance of J.J. Putz. In his second year as Mariners closer, Putz has thrown 21 consecutive scoreless innings over 15 appearances since June 2, yielding just seven hits and three walks while striking out 26.
Putz has set a club record by converting 30 consecutive save opportunities, including 28 this season while posting a 0.79 ERA and limiting opponents to a .123 batting average.
“He brings a presence, for one thing,” McLaren told the Mariners’ official Web site. “We look at it like we’re playing an eight-inning game. We like our chances. (When) we’ve got the lead, he’s going to get it done for us.”
A lights-out closer has been something Toronto has missed since B.J. Ryan was lost for the season in mid-April with elbow problems. The Blue Jays’ 14 blown saves are tied for fourth-most in the AL.
Jeremy Accardo has been inconsistent since taking over as Toronto’s closer in early May. He has a 6.11 ERA in his last 18 appearances, blowing three of 11 save opportunities while giving up 20 hits and 12 walks in 17 2-3 innings.
Accardo blew a save in a 3-2, 10-inning loss to the New York Yankees on Tuesday, and gave up a leadoff single to Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning Thursday but retired the next three batters to save Toronto’s 3-2 victory.
“It’s huge. It’s huge for us to get out of here, especially with that kind of win,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said.
The win salvaged the finale of a four-game set for the Blue Jays, who have failed to score more than four runs in nine of 10 games.
Batista (9-7, 4.38 ERA) takes the mound Friday hoping to show he’s recovered from a blister on his throwing hand that forced him to leave his start on Saturday. He did get the win, allowing one run and five hits while striking out six in six innings of a 6-4 victory over Detroit.
The right-hander has given up three earned runs or fewer in six straight starts.
Batista, who spent 2004 and part of 2005 with the Blue Jays, overcame five walks to defeat Toronto on June 30 as he gave up one run over 6 1-3 innings in an 8-3 victory. That’s his only appearance versus the Blue Jays in the past five years, improving to 2-1 with a 0.87 ERA in three starts against them.
Toronto counters with Jesse Litsch (2-3, 4.02), who has been outstanding in two starts since being recalled from Triple-A Syracuse earlier this month. The rookie right-hander has allowed three runs - one earned - over 13 2-3 innings.
Litsch had been sent down to the minors in late May after a three-start stretch during which he was tagged for 12 runs in a total of just nine innings. He’s never faced Seattle.