The puzzling Seattle Mariners come to the Dome this weekend, for this year's first meeting between the 1977 expansion cousins. And Adam Lind makes his long-awaited return to Toronto, clad in the opposition's livery, and I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've used the word "livery" in a sentence. See, ya live long enough, anything can happen. As if last night in Cleveland hadn't proved that already.
The Mariners are stuck in third place, 6.5 games behind Texas. They're 5.5 games back of the Blue Jays for the second Wild Card. Their biggest problem hasn't been anything they've done - rather, it's been the Texas Rangers' spooky good fortune (19-7) in one-run games. It's the only reason Texas in first place at this point. The Mariners and Astros have played a ton of close games themselves, more than any other team in baseball. The two teams have come about as close to playing .500 ball in those games as you can, without actually playing .500 ball (Houston is 17-17, Seattle is 16-18).
The Mariners finally got rid of Jack Zduriencik last fall, and replaced him with Jerry DiPoto, whom you may remember from his days as the Angels GM, and his unsuccessful power struggle with Mike Scioscia over the use of analytics. This time around, he's got his own man in the dugout, Scott Servais who had a long NL career as a catcher, usually as a backup. Their team features a whole lot of players who could be described as past-their prime: Nelson Cruz and Hisashi Iwakumi are 35 years old, Da-Ho Lee and Nori Aoki are 34, Robinson Cano, Chris Iannetta, Franklin Gutierrez are all 33, Adam Lind is 32. Kyle Seager is in his prime at 28, and the only players younger than Seager who've made a significant contribution to this year's team are shortstop Ketel Marte and reliever Mike Montgomery. Cano, Cruz, and Seager are the Big Scary Bats and everyone else chips in.
The Jays will miss Felix Hernandez, who's still the team's best pitcher, but I've seen enough of King Felix anyway. At this point, the novelty is long gone - the sight of him on the opposition mound just fills my heart with Dread. I've seen enough, I don't want to see no more.
LH James Paxton opens the series - Paxton has spent the last five years showing flashes of Potential Awesomeness, but he's not been able to stay on the field. He had shoulder issues in 2014, a finger problem in 2015, and then pitched so badly this spring that he opened the season in Tacoma. He went 4-3, 3.97 in the PCL and was called up when Felix Hernandez hit the DL. Paxton has faced the Blue Jays twice (1-1, 10.38) , both times in Toronto - he beat Mark Buehrle 3-2 last May, which made up a little for the Jays beating him senseless the previous September.
The Venerable and Ancient Mariner Hisashi Iwakuma may not be all that he used to be, but he's still a very solid ML starter who always keeps his team in the game. He's won his last four starts, and is 3-1, 2.40 lifetime against Toronto.
Journeyman LH Wade LeBlanc wraps things up on Sunday. As you probably know, after major league stops in five organizations, LeBlanc went off to Japan, where he did not pitch very well. The Jays signed him as a free agent last winter, he did just great (7-2, 1.71) in Buffalo until he was sold to the Mariners last month. He's given the Mariners three quality starts in four outings, and will be making his first career appearance against the Blue Jays.
Paxton (2-4, 4.56) vs Estrada (5-3, 2.93)
Iwakuma (10-6, 4.01) vs Dickey (7-10, 4.11)
LeBlanc (1-1, 3.63) vs Happ (12-3, 3.43)
The Jays need to make a roster move to activate Marco Estrada, and if anyone hears about it... I'm sure they'll share!