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The 10 most pleasant Mariners surprises

Signed just days before the season, Chris Young has helped stabilize the Mariners’ injury-riddled rotation. (AP)

I was a Mariners cynic and probably still will be the next time they lose three in a row. I’m having a hard time believing what I’m seeing – a five-game winning streak from a 31-28 team.

I thought they’d go 77-85 or worse, and they still might. But right now, how can you criticize a club that’s a playoff contender?

There are times when you can rip Brad Miller and Justin Smoak, and Nick Franklin and Brandon Maurer as they head back to Tacoma again. But this isn’t one of those times. They’ve won five in a row against two division leaders and a 29-29 Yankees team in New York. The Mariners are winning in a variety of ways with different players contributing, more than compensating for the few who aren’t.

Let’s take a look at the 10 most pleasant surprises thus far:

10) Michael Saunders. The Condor finally looks like he’s ready to fly full-time. He’s hitting .340 with 18 RBIs in his last 15 games. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t keep it up. He’s now batting .284, second on the team to Robinson Cano’s .330 average.

9) Cole Gillespie. I know it’s a small sample size – only 33 at-bats – but he’s hitting .303 after going 2 for 4 in the 2-0 win over the Braves on Wednesday.

8) Fernando Rodney. Is it crazy to put the closer on a list of most pleasant surprises? For me, it’s not. I thought he’d be OK based on his history. And he hasn’t disappointed in the category of edge-of-your-seat excitement. Rodney’s been better than OK with 16 saves in 18 opportunities.

7) Joe Beimel. I thought Lucas Luetge would be the second left-handed reliever coming north from Peoria, but the scraggly, lanky Beimel beat him out, and we’ve seen why. He’s second on the team with a 2.04 ERA and has a terrific pickoff move.

6) Tom Wilhelmsen. After he lost the closer job last year, I figured the Bartender would soon be serving drinks again or at the very most, pitching in Tacoma. But he’s rallied and become a pretty reliable option in the bullpen, though I’m still not convinced.

5) Lloyd McClendon. I was an Eric Wedge fan, but do you think this team would be 31-28 if he were still in charge? McClendon stubbornly stayed with Abraham Almonte too long, and the same could be said with Miller, but he’s somehow cobbled together a winning team thus far.

4) James Jones. He didn’t make the team out of spring training and has become a legitimate leadoff hitter with his blazing speed and .283 average.

3) Chris Young. Released by the Nationals, Young arrived in Seattle as a veteran retread and has become an amazingly solid fixture in the rotation. He’s been especially good at Safeco Field with a 3-0 record and 1.89 ERA.

2) Roenis Elias. It seemed like he’d be a guy who would hang around until Hisashi Iwakuma returned, but he’s been as spectacular as his curveball. Ask the Tigers after Elias threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout against them last Sunday.

1) Dominic Leone. Another player who was not with the Mariners when they left spring training. All he’s done is become the best reliever on the team to a point that analyst Mike Blowers is touting him as an All-Star Game candidate. Leone leads the Mariners with 30 strikeouts and 1.40 ERA.

The Go 2 Guy also writes for and You can reach Jim at and follow him on Twitter @cougsgo.