BRENT STECKER

Three Things: The second big Mariners run of 2016 is here

Aug 15, 2016, 8:55 AM | Updated: 1:19 pm

Utility player Shawn O'Malley is hitting .409 with a .480 on-base percentage over his last nine gam...

Utility player Shawn O'Malley is hitting .409 with a .480 on-base percentage over his last nine games. (AP)

(AP)

The last time we talked, the Mariners had just finished a three-game sweep of the Angels, and the prevailing question was whether they would finally be able to get a much-needed second stretch of winning baseball together. The answer turned out to be a resounding yes.

The Mariners followed that sweep with another one, giving them a six-game winning streak – their longest of the season. They have the best record in the American League over the past 12 games, going 10-2 over that period. And after taking the last two games of their set with the Athletics over the weekend, the Mariners now get another three games with a floundering Angels team that has lost 10 straight. Point being, they have a golden opportunity this week to completely close the ever-shrinking gap between them and a wild-card spot.

Here are three things to keep in mind with the Mariners:

1. The second big run Seattle has needed this season is here.

What a difference a month makes. On July 15, the Mariners came out of the All-Star break with a loss to Houston, dropping to .500 on the season and looking increasingly like a team that just wouldn’t be able to find enough sustained success to truly make a push for the playoffs. On Aug. 15, they’re eight games over .500, only two games out of a wild-card spot and still surging. In some ways, the Mariners are a lot like the team that stormed through April and May with great all-around pitching and a knack for the long ball. Then again, they appear now to be an even more well-rounded team, with Mike Zunino showing that he’s one of the better defensive catchers in the game and the combination of Arquimedes Caminero and Edwin Diaz is serving opposing offenses straight fire in the eighth and ninth innings. And like any team that gets on a run, the Mariners are getting production from some less-heralded sources, which brings me to No. 2.

2. Shawn O’Malley: Big-league player.

After O’Malley, a kid who grew up in the Tri-Cities rooting for the Mariners, hit the go-ahead home run and made a stellar defensive play at shortstop on the night Ken Griffey Jr. had his number retired, manager Scott Servais was asked what had gotten into him. Servais’ response: “He thinks he’s a big-league player.” It appears O’Malley no longer thinks that; he just is one. Over his last nine games, the former Southridge High School star has a .409 average (9 for 22) and .480 on-base percentage to go with two home runs, a double, a triple, six RBIs, five runs scored and a stolen base. Initially brought up in late May to be a utility player off the bench, O’Malley has proven to be incredibly valuable to Servais’ team. When Ketel Marte went down last month with mononucleosis, O’Malley assumed the starting shortstop job and actually outproduced Marte’s recent offensive contributions. And even with Marte back, the switch-hitting 28-year-old is still playing some shortstop and seems to be in line for regular playing time in left field against left-handed pitchers, like he did on Friday. With O’Malley swinging a hot bat and working himself into the lineup with his ability to play almost anywhere on the field, he suddenly seems like the second coming of Willie Bloomquist, another fan-favorite utility man from Washington.

3. New look, even better results for the bullpen.

When Drew Storen gave up a leadoff home run to Oakland’s Brett Eibner in the seventh inning Sunday, two streaks ended. First was his personal scoreless streak, which had covered his last six innings – no small feat considering his season ERA had been over 7.00 following his first outing with the Mariners in late July. Second was an even more important streak. Seattle’s relievers had allowed just one run over their previous 27 1/3 innings of work. For a team that could call its bullpen a strength during much of the season, somehow it’s become even better. It hardly looks the same, either. Original closer Steve Cishek has been on the disabled list for a few weeks. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Cubs. Tony Zych has been out since May. Instead, the Mariners have the 22-year-old Diaz flat-out owning the closer’s role, as he’s converted all six of his save chances since taking over the job. Fellow flamethrower Caminero has been a revelation since being acquired from Pittsburgh just over a week ago, throwing six scoreless innings in five appearances, allowing only three hits and issuing zero walks – a huge deal for a pitcher who has struggled with command throughout his career. Then there’s Tom Wilhelmsen, who has enjoyed a renaissance since coming back to Seattle in late June after a disastrous stint with Texas. He’s yielded just three runs in 15 innings with the Mariners to lower his ERA nearly 4 1/2 runs. Nick Vincent has 3 2/3 scoreless frames, a hold and a save to his credit since recently returning from a back injury. And Storen, at one time an effective closer for the Nationals, has turned out to be a fine addition. Like the pitcher he was traded for, Joaquin Benoit (7 2/3 scoreless innings since joining the Blue Jays), Storen has been a solid contributor for his new team since getting a change of scenery. Long story short, if you want to beat the Mariners, you best take a lead into the seventh inning.

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