Mariners have reason for hope

Mariners have reason for hope

SEATTLE -- With slightly more than two weeks remaining in the season, the Mariners have improved more in the win-loss column than any team in the Major Leagues.

A team that lost 101 games in 2008 is closing in on a winning record this season, and things are definitely looking up for the franchise.

"There are a lot of positives that have happened this year at the Major League level," first-year manager Don Wakamatsu said, "but we also feel good about the Draft this year and some of the development of the guys in the Minor Leagues.

"There are some guys who proved to be mainstays on our team. You look at the bullpen, you look at [Franklin] Gutierrez in center field, you look at Felix [Hernandez] stepping up and you look at [Ryan] Rowland-Smith. We feel we're much stronger and much better off than we were at the start."

Going into Saturday night's game against the Yankees at Safeco Field in the second game of a three-game series, the Mariners have some players having career years.

For example, second baseman Jose Lopez has reached a career highs with 24 home runs and 90 RBIs, and closer David Aardsma, who came into the season with no previous big league saves, has 35 -- the fifth-highest total in franchise history.

Gutierrez, a right fielder for the Indians, has found a home in center field with the Mariners and has developed into one of the best all-around players on the team.

First baseman Russell Branyan had a terrific first half of the season, batting .280 with 22 home runs and 49 RBIs at the All-Star break. A troublesome back, which finally put him on the disabled list, stopped him in his tracks almost two weeks ago, but he still has reached career highs in home runs (30) and RBIs (76).

And he might have a chance to pad those numbers before the season ends.

"He's been going hard with this [recuperation] and doing a lot of work in the pool, and it gives him a chance to go home [to Florida]," Wakamatsu said. "He's going to do some work with a therapist there that he's had some success with in the past. He seems pretty optimistic.

"The best-case scenario we're looking at now is Toronto. If that doesn't work out, then we're looking at the last homestand."

Branyan has been one of the best bargains in baseball this season, signing a one-year, $1.4 million contract in November.

The clubhouse atmosphere has done a complete turnaround this season, and veteran designated hitter Mike Sweeney recently called it the best clubhouse of his career.

"To hear those comments makes me feel good that we are headed in the right direction," Wakamatsu said. You set out trying to change the culture in the organization and teach them how to win. You watch teams that made it to the World Series, whether it was Philadelphia or Tampa, and you hear every one of them say they came together as a team."

Pitching matchup
SEA: RHP Doug Fister (2-2, 3.53 ERA)
Fister lacked location on too many of his pitches in his start against the Rangers and was tagged for 10 hits in 4 2/3 innings. It was his shortest outing since being inserted into the rotation in mid-August. He needs to command the lower part of the strike zone, which he did so well in his first six starts. The depth of his pitches determines the amount of movement they have. This will be his second career appearance against the Yankees. He held them to eight hits and three runs over seven innings in his second big league start, notching his first win.

NYY: LHP CC Sabathia (17-7, 3.42 ERA)
Sabathia looks to keep the good times rolling as the Yankees have won each of his last nine starts. The left-hander is 7-0 with a 2.48 ERA over that span, limiting opponents to a .216 batting average. Sabathia last logged win No. 17 against the Orioles on Sunday, hurling seven innings of three-run, five-hit ball. Sabathia faced the Mariners on Aug. 13 in Seattle, throwing eight innings of one-run, three-hit ball and striking out 10.

Tidbits
Right-handed reliever Chris Jakubauskas, sidelined since Sept. 3 with a knot behind his right shoulder, threw on the side prior to Friday night's game, will take Saturday off and should be good to go on Sunday in the series finale against the Yankees. ... After taking Friday night off, Mark Lowe should be available for the middle game of the series. He has thrown multiple innings the past week and Wakamatsu is getting concerned about too much wear and tear on the reliever's right arm. Lowe has appeared in a staff high 68 games this season. ... Shortstop Jack Wilson had an X-ray on his right heel and the results were negative. However, a MRI exam is likely. ... The home runs by Jose Lopez and Bill Hall in the ninth inning on Thursday, which tied the game, marked the first time the club has hit two homers to tie a game in the ninth since July 19, 2004, when Miguel Olivo and Edgar Martinez hit solo shots against the Red Sox.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN

On radio
• 710 ESPN, FSN-SAP (Español)

Up next
• Sunday: Mariners (Ian Snell, 6-10, 5.17) vs. Yankees (Joba Chamberlain, 8-5, 4.39), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Mariners (Ryan Rowland-Smith, 4-3, 3.59) at Rays (Jeff Niemann, 12-6, 3.80), 4:08 p.m. PT

Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.