That kind of pitching has kept a poor offensive showing from sinking the Mariners' boat. They've scored 11 runs in five games, and not counting Saturday's 5-1 win against the Reds, Seattle has plated just six in four games.
"Our pitching staff is unbelievable right now," said first baseman Mike Carp. "Hopefully they can keep throwing like that, and all we have to do is put up one or two runs, as you can see. Shutouts after shutouts, it's pretty impressive."
Center fielder Franklin Gutierrez did the heavy lifting on offense, blasting a two-run homer in the second to score Jose Lopez, who singled. Cubs starter Ryan Dempster left a fastball up in the zone, and Gutierrez sent it into the bullpen in left field for his first home run since May 25.
Other than that, Dempster wasn't troubled much. Only two runners reached second base from that point on, and he went all eight innings while allowing just five hits and striking out eight.
Vargas was just as good, and while he avoided making a mistake like Dempster's pitch to Gutierrez, it took some solid defense and a little luck to put together his fifth consecutive quality start. In the fifth inning, Alfonso Soriano led off with a double, but the hit was wasted a batter later.
Tyler Colvin hit a soft fly ball to left field, and Soriano took off thinking it would drop and he could score from second. Instead, left fielder Michael Saunders caught it and threw to second to double off Soriano, all but ending the threat.
"I don't know what he was thinking there," Gutierrez said. "I think it was good for us. They could have scored some runs that inning. Sometimes you think the ball can drop and you try to be aggressive, but that time we got the double play. That was huge for us."
In the seventh, Geovany Soto walked and Soriano's single put runners on the corners with one out, but Vargas escaped the jam when Carp made a diving stop on Colvin's grounder and flipped to first.
"That was huge," Vargas said. "I thought that ball was getting through the hole for sure. For him to get off the bag like that, make that play and give me a good feed was huge. To keep us at two runs going into the eighth and ninth was big for us."
That was the end of Vargas' night, as manager Don Wakamatsu pulled him after the inning. He threw 94 pitches (65 strikes) and walked one. Wakamatsu said the decision to take Vargas out was to avoid long-term wear and tear like the shoulder fatigue that landed Doug Fister on the disabled list.
"He was locating all of his pitches," said Cubs second baseman Ryan Theriot. "It goes to show that when you're a pitcher, if you can hit your spots and stay consistent hitting spots, you can not only get some strikeouts and win games but go deep into games like that. He was really just throwing two pitches, and he kept us off balance with two pitches."
Brandon League came in for the eighth and wiggled out of a two-on, no-out jam with a double play and flyout, and closer David Aardsma faced the exact same situation as Vargas' seventh-inning pinch -- and struck out Colvin to end the game with his 16th save.
The win gives the Mariners five in a row, their longest win streak of the season. They're still 13 games out in the division -- the American League West-leading Rangers have won in nine successive tries -- but momentum is picking up for the club.
Seattle is one game shy of the franchise record for consecutive games allowing one run or less, set at six games in 2001. There's a decent chance the record book will be rewritten, as Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez are the next two starters due to take the hill.
"The way it's lined up this homestand, you feel really good about having Cliff Lee and Felix in our ballpark twice," Wakamatsu said. "Especially with these tight games. We talked about how many we won last year and how many we lost earlier in the season. Now it's turning a little bit, and these guys have a belief system that we can win these type of games."
Vargas has notched five consecutive quality starts and ranks sixth in the AL with a 2.66 ERA. Lee is fifth (2.55) and Fister is tied for first (2.45). That fact was lost on Vargas, who said he spends more time watching Sesame Street than looking at his stats.
"I'm not really a computer-savvy guy, where I'm on the Internet looking at those type of things," Vargas said. "I have a 2-year-old son at home, so we watch cartoons most of the time. We don't really get to SportsCenter that much."