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Are the Mariners approaching the corner?

By Shannon Drayer

The Mariners return from Cincinnati with two series wins against two winning teams.

After weeks of having the starting pitching but no offense, or offense and no starting pitching, or offense and starting pitching but a bullpen meltdown, the Mariners had all three for five out of six games. They had all three on the road against two tough teams.

I’m not ready to say they have turned the corner; we need more games to determine that. But is the corner in sight? Is what we saw last week different?

Maybe it is in part because the team is different. Nick Franklin, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino are now regulars. While the team is currently 10 games under .500, it has gone 16-17 in games in which Franklin has played. Fun fact: only one current Mariner with more than 10 games played has a winning record. Any guesses as to who that is?

After allowing one earned run over seven innings on Sunday, Joe Saunders has a 2.70 ERA over his last eight starts. (AP)

Justin Smoak (and no, it’s not him) is back and is hitting. Yes, his numbers with runners in scoring position are terrible but with the consistent contact he is making now and an awareness of that shortcoming there is a good chance we will see improvement. Since his return from the oblique injury on June 18, Smoak is hitting .308/.389/.577/.966. The team is 8-9 since his return.

There are plenty of other positives that could help push this team closer to that corner.

Raul Ibanez is showing no signs of slowing down. On Saturday he was given his first game off since May 29. His numbers since that day wouldn’t indicate that he needed one as he was hitting .280/.331/.583/.914 over that five-week period.

The bullpen seems to have straightened itself out. Tom Wilhelmsen was in the closer role Sunday because of the number of righties in the lineup, but he was impressive, needing just five pitches to close the game out.

Oliver Perez has stepped up and Charlie Furbush has as well. Both pitchers have shown the ability to get lefties and righties out and Furbush has worked his way from a long-relief role to a trusted late-inning arm.

The starting pitching has improved as well with Joe Saunders limiting his opponents to three or fewer runs in seven of his last eight appearances, and two or fewer in six of those eight. Aaron Harang has limited his opponents to three or fewer runs in six of his last eight outings.

There have been negatives, of course. Hits with runners in scoring position, as mentioned above, is still a problem. Jeremy Bonderman has been shaky at best. Carter Capps has surrendered 13 runs in his last five outings. Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley, while both have shown signs that their bats could be coming around, have struggled.

There could be changes coming, however, that could help out in these areas if these players don’t sort things out themselves.

Michael Morse is expected back either late this week or right after the All-Star break. Stephen Pryor is making significant progress and could return shortly after the break as well. We should see Erasmo Ramirez at some point. The trade deadline is coming and that too could in part reshape the team.

Those are all future possibilities. For now, however, Boston and Anaheim await. With Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma on the hill Monday and Tuesday, respectively, can the Mariners steal two? If they do, and if they play well against the Angels, does that coupled with this road trip and the recent changes that have been made change your outlook for this team?

I am not talking playoffs here, but rather significant progress. Reaching that corner and perhaps peering around to the other side?

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