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Originally published August 9, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified August 12, 2007 at 9:08 PM

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Jerry Brewer

This M's team is too good for a slide

Do you remember the 11-game losing streak? Chuck Armstrong winced and dipped his head. "Oh, I remember it," the Mariners' president said...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Do you remember the 11-game losing streak?

Chuck Armstrong winced and dipped his head.

"Oh, I remember it," the Mariners' president said.

It was only the most excruciating part of last season. And Friday marks the one-year anniversary of The Slide.

Don't order a cake. Hold the gifts. Pray history remains history.

As streaky as these Mariners are, you can't expect them to do anything other than accelerate your heart rate. But they've learned from last season. They've grown. They've improved. Now they have a chance to do what they couldn't a year ago.

Stay in the playoff hunt.

"This year is different," pitcher Felix Hernandez said. "The difference is obvious, to me."

When asked why during a conversation last week, Hernandez only said, "We're a good team."

All season, the Mariners have teetered along, leaving you to wonder whether they are legit or just a fancier version of inadequate. Surviving August would be a major step toward becoming authentic.

On Aug. 10, 2006, the Mariners started the day with a 56-57 record. They were pseudo playoff contenders, but only because Oakland had yet to take control of the American League West.

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The Mariners were 5 ½ games behind the A's. They weren't really in the race, but they weren't really out of it, either. They were loitering.

Then they started losing.

Eleven days, 11 losses.

By Aug. 20, the Mariners were 14 games back.

Fans called for manager Mike Hargrove's head. They wanted Bill Bavasi to go, too. Mass firings likely would've occurred if not for some late-season victories that provided cosmetic improvement.

The Mariners are still feeling the effects of The Slide. They've had two six-game losing streaks this season and one seven-gamer. Each time, there has been fear of implosion. And not just from the fans.

"I've thought about last year during every losing streak this year," Armstrong admitted.

During the seven-game skid last month, Armstrong was concerned. He had meetings with key personnel. He left those conversations impressed.

"I could see this year is different," Armstrong said. "We don't have the same mentality. We believe we're going to be in the playoffs this year."

The differences are quite noticeable.

Last August, the Mariners were dancing around .500 mostly because they collected interleague victories against lesser competition. This August, they are 13 games over .500 and have fared well against playoff contenders.

Last August, the Mariners couldn't even beat teams in their own division. They wound up losing 20 in a row to AL West foes. This August, they stand 20-17 against the AL West, already more divisional wins than they had all of last year (19-38).

Last August, they were a poor road team, and if you recall, the entire 11-game losing streak happened away from Safeco Field. This August, they stand a decent road team.

I'm still not sure the Mariners will be a playoff team. But, at the very least, the Los Angeles Angels should have to work to hold them off in the AL West.

And the competition for the wild card — currently, Detroit and the New York Yankees — should have to outlast the Mariners to get that spot. The Mariners shouldn't be giving away anything this year.

"It's going to be good," Hernandez said of the stretch run. "I'm focused. Everybody's focused."

It will take more than focus, of course. They need Raul Ibanez to build upon his past two games.

Just when you thought Ibanez didn't have enough power to lift his credit card, he has hit three home runs this week.

They need Richie Sexson, who has hit safely in back-to-back games, to stay awake. They need Hernandez and the rest of the rotation to stay solid.

The Mariners are in the middle of a 19-game stretch that is heavy on mediocre competition. They must pick up games now. They've won these first two games with Baltimore, and only six of their next 17 are against winning teams.

If they could finish 12-7 or 13-6 during this period, the Mariners would be anywhere from 16 to 18 games over .500 by late August. That would make September awfully interesting.

"We've been saying we're going to win the West since the beginning of the season," Armstrong said. "This is a different team. Different mentality. I like what I see."

The difference is obvious.

They are a good team.

If the Mariners play like one the next two weeks, they finally can put The Slide out of their minds.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com. For more columns and the Extra Points blog, visit seattletimes.com/sports

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports. Also check out Jerry's Extra Points blog, where he talks with readers about his columns.
jbrewer@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2277

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