Another good weekend for the Mariners as starters, bullpen shine

This team might bring some joy to our summer yet.

While the doctrine of patience is equally applicable after success as it is following failure, Mariners fans can't help but get a little giddy that their team is now 5-3 and in first place after whacking the Rangers -- a team the Mariners need to put in the cellar -- for the second consecutive afternoon.

The offense came alive the last two games, taking advantage of a hapless Rangers defense that, quite frankly, is much better than what it showed. (As an aside, I wonder how long Ron Washington's "feel good" clubhouse will last with his team looking like the Bad News Bears ...) After entering the series batting under .200, the Mariners hit .306 against Texas en route to piling up 24 runs -- 22 of them in the last two games.

As encouraging as anything was that the M's did it not with the punchless attack that we've grown so accustomed to the past few years, but with a series of extra-base hits that made the Rangers pay handsomely for every mistake they made -- 13 of them over the three games, to be exact. Even Jose Vidro got in on the fun with a pair of homers yesterday.

But the real stars of the series -- if you're thinking about long-term success for this team -- was the pitching. Jarrod Washburn did enough to win the first game, Miguel Batista was about as good as you could ever expect out of him, and Horacio Ramirez only gave up one earned run in his six-plus innings yesterday (although he did give up five runs total).

And that bullpen that was considered such a question mark heading into the season? Absolutely stellar in holding the Rangers down. In pitching 8.1 innings, Seattle relievers allowed just two runs on four hits for just a 2.13 ERA. It wasn't just a one guy getting it done; Julio Mateo, George Sherrill, Chris Reitsma, Brandon Morrow and J.J. Putz all made nice appearances.

Most impressive to me? The innings Reitsma and Morrow put together. Reitsma might not throw 98 MPH anymore, but he looked awful good at 93. And Morrow, after walking the first guy he faced, struck out the next three guys in order, showing off that 95 MPH "easy cheese" that is going to befuddle hitters for years to come. His breaking stuff looked suspect, but if he keeps locating that fastball, it won't matter much while he's in the bullpen. Whether it hampers his long-term progress, since he won't be able to work on that breaking stuff while he's in the bigs, remains to be seen.

The bottom line is that Seattle is going to need that bullpen this year, as about six innings is the most it can expect to get out of most of the starters. So far, so good, even for Mateo (who I think at some point this year will prove that it is indeed possible to eat a cheeseburger and pitch at the same time).

If the Mariners can continue these trends against the Twins, who come to town tomorrow, they'll really have something going. Minnesota has been inconsistent since a season-opening sweep of Baltimore, and the Mariners have an excellent chance to take another series, as Felix pitches on Wednesday and they get the good fortune of missing Johan Santana.

These are heady times in Seattle. Dare we think sweep?

Since this is the latest the Mariners have been in first place since April 2003 -- 2003! -- why not?

(LATE CORRECTION: It was actually August 2003. Sorry.)

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