The Seattle Mariners are closing in on the AL West lead. Their dominant bullpen is a big reason why.
The Mariners go for a season high-tying fifth straight road victory when they continue a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays on Saturday.
Seattle (54-39) beat the Blue Jays 4-2 in Friday’s opener to move within one game of the division-leading Los Angeles Angels. The Mariners haven’t been this close to first place since May 15, when they also trailed by one game.
Seattle is 15 games over .500 for the first time since it finished the 2003 season 93-69. The Mariners are outscoring opponents 22-6 during their four-game road winning streak, with the pitching staff recording a 1.50 ERA.
The bullpen hasn’t allowed a run in 13 1-3 innings during that stretch, holding opponents to a .119 batting average.
“I can’t say enough good things about our bullpen, the way they’ve pitched this year,” said Mariners manager John McLaren, whose team has won eight of its last 11 games. “They’re a big part of our success.”
J.J. Putz pitched the ninth inning Friday for his 29th save. He extended his streak of scoreless innings to 22 and has converted 31 chances in a row dating to last season - both the longest active streaks in the majors.
Mariners relievers could be busy Saturday if starter Jeff Weaver (2-7, 6.82 ERA) can’t bounce back from a dismal outing. The right-hander gave up seven runs and 10 hits - both tying season highs - over five-plus innings in an 11-7 defeat to Detroit on Sunday.
The defeat was Weaver’s first since losing six straight starts from April 10-May 10, a stretch in which he posted a 14.32 ERA. The poor start was a setback for the right-hander, who had been 2-0 with a 1.67 ERA in six starts since returning from the disabled list following a bout with shoulder tendinitis.
“He gets frustrated out there,” McLaren told the Mariners’ official Web site. “He challenges himself, and when he doesn’t do what thinks he’s capable of doing, he gets down on himself a little bit.”
Weaver is 5-9 with a 5.33 ERA in 17 games against the Blue Jays. He didn’t get a decision July 1 despite holding them to one run over eight innings in a 2-1 victory.
The Mariners have taken all four meetings with the Blue Jays (46-50) this season, but won for just the fifth time in their last 19 games in Toronto on Friday. Adrian Beltre hit a two-run homer, and he’s gone deep twice in eight career at-bats against Josh Towers, who will take the mound for the Jays on Saturday.
Seattle right fielder Jose Guillen is 6-for-12 with a homer and three doubles against Towers (4-6, 5.40). The right-hander is 4-1 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts versus the Mariners and has won his last four decisions against them, but he’ll be trying to rebound from a rough outing.
Towers gave up a season-high six earned runs and nine hits - three homers - over 5 2-3 innings in a 6-4 defeat to the New York Yankees on Monday. It was a very different performance than his previous start July 8, when he scattered three hits in eight innings but didn’t get the decision in Toronto’s 1-0 victory over Cleveland.
Toronto has dropped four of its last five games, averaging 2.4 runs and hitting .128 (6-for-47) with runners in scoring position during that stretch.