ANAHEIM -- The three-game series between the Mariners and Angels features more than the first- and second-place teams in the American League West. Some superb end-of-the-game relievers are armed and ready to go. If either team has the lead at the end of seven innings, the trailing team has a huge mountain to climb to get a win. The reason for that is the tail end of both bullpens is usually lights-out when it comes to protecting late-game leads.
Going into Monday night's series opener, the Mariners were 23-0 when leading after seven innings and had the same record when leading after eight. The Angels were 30-2 when leading after seven innings and 31-0 when leading after eight. The Mariners have a dynamic duo in right-handers Brandon Morrow and J.J. Putz, just as the Angels have their own one-two punch in right-handers Scot Shields and Francisco Rodriguez. Morrow has appeared in 15 games, currently is on a 14 1/3-inning scoreless streak, has a 1.96 ERA and has struck out 19 batters in 18 1/3 innings. Putz is 12-for-12 in save situations, has a 1.20 ERA and has struck out 20 and walked four in 21 2/3 innings. Those are slightly better numbers than Shields (3.04 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings) and K-Rod (2.38 ERA, 16 saves and 32 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings). Shields leads the Angels with 24 appearances this season and had a league-leading 31 holds in 2006. Asked prior to Monday night's game if he and Morrow are the most dominant one-two punch in the AL, Putz said, "Well, I'm not going to say no, but [Juan] Rincon and [Joe] Nathan are pretty good for the Twins, and Oakland's [Justin] Duchscherer and [Huston] Street are good when they're healthy." Manager Mike Hargrove said, "Off the top of my head, Shields and Rodriguez are pretty good, but our guys are doing a good job so far." First in hitting: When the Mariners awakened on Monday, they were the best-hitting team in the AL -- batting average-wise. For the first time this season, hitting coach Jeff Pentland's troops led the AL with a .279 average. Over the past 11 games, the Mariners are batting .324 (132-for-407), have scored 62 runs and had 36 extra-base hits. In the past four games, the team batting average is .369 and the overall average has climbed 10 points, out of seventh place and into the top spot. When asked if he had patted Pentland on the back, Hargrove said, "Somebody should. Jeff is good at what he does, and he works hard at it. Everybody needs to be patted on the back and told, 'Good job.'" The Mariners' Japan Connection has been leading the offensive splurge. Ichiro Suzuki took a 20-game hitting streak into Monday night's game, and catcher Kenji Johjima was batting .417 on the current road trip. "We have a good offensive ballclub," Hargrove said. "We have guys in our lineup that put the ball in play." This 'n that: Putz has nine saves so far in May, one shy of the club record set by Mike Schooler in May 1989. ... The Mariners have surrendered just four runs in the ninth inning this season, the fewest in the Major Leagues. ... Right-handed reliever Chris Reitsma's right elbow is much improved, and there's a chance he could come off the 15-day disabled list on schedule this Sunday. ... The report on left-hander Horacio Ramirez also is positive. He was examined by Dr. Edward Khalfayan on Monday, and his shoulder injury apparently isn't serious. It will take some time to get over, however, probably at least the 15 days he will be on the disabled list. ... Right-hander Jeff Weaver will throw a simulated game on Tuesday and if all goes well, he would then make at least one or two rehab starts in the Minor Leagues. Nearing final approach: Only one leg remains in the Mariners' 6,273-mile road trip through Cleveland, Tampa, Kansas City and Anaheim and back to Seattle. All that remains from the long journey is the 962-mile flight from Ontario Airport to Seattle's Boeing Field. On deck: The three-game AL West showdown continues on Tuesday night, with the Mariners expected to call up and start left-hander Ryan Feierabend, who will replace Ramirez. The Angels are slated to start right-hander Ervin Santana (3-6, 6.00) in the middle game of the series, which starts at 7:05 PT at Angel Stadium.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.