Just when you think you've got it all figured out, just when you're ready to write off the Mariners and the Rangers as lost for the season – not that it's anything other than way too damned early to write off anyone (other than the Royals and Devil Rays, of course) – both teams come back with serious offensive output, seemingly out of nowhere. Slumping players on both teams opened up their various bags of tricks Wednesday night and put the hurt on streaking, division-leading teams.
The Mariners, who were in the midst of a four-game losing streak, unearthed some recently missing punch from first baseman Richie Sexson (.235/.297/.500) and left fielder Raúl Ibañez (.353/.436/.529) who combined for 8 RBI - including Sexson's 10th career grand slam – as well as the now almost-a-given RBI or three from newly-imported Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima (.345/.424/.621). Perhaps the most important part of the Mariners' 11-9 victory over AL Central leadering Cleveland, though, was the 3-for-4, 4 run explosion from right fielder Ichiro Suzuki (.237/.326/.263). When these particular puzzle pieces are working in unison the Mariners are very hard to beat. The M's will have a fighting chance tonight to put it all together again behind the arm of young right-handed starter Félix Hernández (0-1 in one start with a 1.80 ERA), who's no doubt itching to get his first win of the season.
The Rangers, who had gotten off to a heartbreaking 2-7 start, also made a lot of noise with their bats on Wednesday in an 11-2 thumping of the AL West-leading Angels. Slow-starting first baseman Mark Teixeira (.351/.455/.514) finally got his first home run of the season, a solo shot in the 4th inning off of Angels' starter Kelvim Escobar. On top of that, just-called-up-from-the-minors right fielder Gary Matthews, Jr. (.200/.200/.600) clocked a 3-RBI triple later in the same inning. The biggest news from the Rangers' victory, though, has to be starting pitcher John Koronka's successful 6-hit, 2-run performance against one of the top 10 offenses in the American league. The Rangers have consistently had trouble with their pitching, something that they'd hoped – and so far failed – to avoid this year with the acquisitions of Kevin Millwood (career ERA 3.79, but 7.36 in two starts this year) and Adam Eaton (on the DL for 2-3 months without having made a start in 2006). The Rangers travel to Oakland on Friday for a three-game series starting with Millwood against the A's very own struggling ace, Barry Zito.
With solid performances from their relatively weak starting rotations and consistent production from their potentially potent offenses, both the Rangers and Mariners have a chance to keep the division interesting well into the season. Both are dark horses when it comes to the possibility of actually winning the West, but far less likely things have happened in the world of baseball. Unlike other divisions that have obvious stratification, the AL West is one that fans can follow with relish for the next 24-1/2 weeks and be fairly confident that some high stakes games will be there for the watching all the way up to October.