OAKLAND, Calif. — When it happens for one game, you hope it is something more than a one-off surprise. If it happens for two consecutive games, you want to believe it’s the start of a trend, but baseball superstition won’t allow you to say it. And, well, if it happens for a third game on Thursday afternoon in the series finale and carries into the three-game series in Anaheim and beyond, then maybe the Mariners might just pull themselves back into consideration for the postseason race.
For the second consecutive night at the mostly vacant Oakland Coliseum, the Mariners looked nothing like the team that was shut out four times and scored more than three runs just three times on the previous 11-game homestand. This squad looked like something more than a competent offense, filling the bases with runners, getting timely hits and showing some power in a 9-0 victory.
With the win, the Mariners picked up a much-needed series victory — their fourth in a row on the road — and snapped an overall three-series losing streak. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games at the Coliseum.
The Mariners can secure a series sweep with a win in what is expected to be a solid pitching duel Thursday afternoon. Left-hander Robbie Ray, who has been outstanding in his last few outings, will square off against Oakland ace Frankie Montas, who is expected to be the most coveted starting pitcher available at the trade deadline.
Obviously, the expectation isn’t scoring eight-plus runs per night, which is what the Mariners have done the first two games of the series. But it’s the process of how they racked up the runs that needs to be carried over as much as possible. The Mariners’ at-bats were filled with controlled aggression that put pressure on A’s starter Paul Blackburn — look for good pitches, don’t chase the bad pitches and pummel the ones they could drive.
Blackburn, who came into the game with a 6-2 record and 2.26 ERA, was scrambling from the first few pitches of the game when J.P. Crawford led off with a double and scored on Julio Rodriguez’s missile of a ground-rule double over the head of center fielder Ramon Laureano.
Cal Raleigh made it 2-0 in the second inning when he worked a 3-1 count and hammered a sinker out over the plate, sending a deep fly ball over the wall in center. The solo blast was Raleigh’s ninth homer of the season. In a quirky stat, since last season the Mariners are 11-0 when Raleigh homers.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the last two games of run scoring is the role that Jesse Winker has played. He produced an RBI single in the third inning that made it 3-0 and helped knock Blackburn out of the game in the fifth inning with a two-run homer to dead center.
It was the second straight night that Winker had a two-hit game that featured deep blasts to center field.
Somewhat overlooked in the back-to-back nights of offensive output, and it shouldn’t be, was the brilliant start from rookie George Kirby. In his ninth MLB start, Kirby produced a bounce-back performance against the A’s, pitching six shutout innings while allowing five hits with a walk and six strikeouts. In his third MLB start, he gave up four runs on eight hits in five innings against the A’s at T-Mobile Park on May 24.
Kirby has produced quality starts (six-plus innings pitched, three runs or fewer allowed) in four of his last five starts.
It was yet another impressive outing from Mariners starters, who have the smallest share of blame for the team’s previous struggles. The starting rotation has allowed three runs or fewer in the last 20 games, which tied a franchise record set in 2014. Unfortunately, they have produced just a 10-10 record over those 20 games because the offense failed to score more than three runs in any of the losses. In fact, the offense scored two runs or fewer in nine of those 10 losses. When the Mariners score three runs or fewer, they have a 3-29 record. If they score four runs or more, they have a 28-10 record.