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Mariners and A’s could be in for a nail-biting playoff race

The Mariners are ahead of Oakland in the playoff race, but the A's are gaining ground. (AP)

The Mariners have been among the two best teams in the American League West for just about the entire season, but they and the division-leading Houston Astros suddenly have company.

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Entering Friday, the perpetual upstarts known as the Oakland Athletics had won 13 of their last 16 games (punctuated by a series win over Houston on Thursday) that has them just eight games out of first place and closing the gap with the Mariners for the AL’s second wild card.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore for his weekly interview Thursday and explained that there are two things Oakland is doing particularly well that makes them a threat.

“They’ve got a really nice thing going with power and bullpen,” Dipoto said. “One (thing) that hasn’t changed since opening day, they do have a nucleus of one of the more interesting position-player groups in the league. … They can hit, they can score runs, I guess most importantly they hit homers, and that goes a long way. And they also have a pretty dynamic back-end of their bullpen.”

Dipoto, who is in his third season as Mariners GM and also spent four-plus seasons as the Los Angeles Angels GM this decade, is well aware of the pesky Athletics’ knack for making surprise runs at the postseason.

“The A’s always find a way to make themselves a competitive team – at least that’s the way it seems being in the AL West all these years – and they’ve done it again.”

A big part of the Athletics’ push has been their ability to make late-game comebacks, scoring an MLB-leading 69 runs in the eighth inning. Of course, Dipoto’s team has a similar flair for the dramatic, having won an MLB-best 26 one-run games. Dipoto pointed to how well the Mariners’ lineup has executed the smaller things for their own success in the later innings.

“We have a unique team particularly in the American League in that (when) we get late in games, we handle velocity fairly well. We have somehow managed to be much better against bullpens than we’ve been against starting pitchers, which in today’s day and age with the velocity or stuff that comes out of a bullpen is pretty amazing,” he said. “At the end of games where other teams are maybe reliant on a walk and a homer, we have a knack for figuring out a way whether it be a walk, a couple of infield singles, bunting runners over. We’ve done remarkable things by keeping the ball in the infield and playing small ball and then coming through with that big hit at a critical time – and then just handing the ball to Edwin Díaz.

“That’s been a pretty good formula for us and I don’t expect that that’s gonna change.”

If anything is for sure about the Mariners and A’s, it’s that when they meet in their 10 remaining games against each other this season, you can count on some close contests that turn into battles between bullpens.

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