Phil Rogers

Powerful heart of the order has Mariners contending

Cruz, Cano, Seager help put Seattle in Wild Card hunt

Powerful heart of the order has Mariners contending

CHICAGO -- Pop quiz time.

Which team has three of the 25 most productive hitters in Major League Baseball?
A: The Chicago Cubs
B: The Toronto Blue Jays
C: The Boston Red Sox
D: The Baltimore Orioles
E: None of the above

Obviously, none of the above is the answer. It's the Seattle Mariners, who were surely on the tip of your tongue.

As under the radar as the Mariners have been for most of this season, nobody has three regulars as consistently productive as Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. They're leading the way for a team that needs to be taken seriously as a contender.

Cruz cracks bat, hits dinger

Only the Cubs and Royals have played better the past few weeks than the Mariners, who are 15-8 since Aug. 2. They've had to patch together their pitching staff at times, but they have always been able to count on Cruz, Cano and Seager.

Those three are all among the top 21 hitters in wRC+ (Weighted Runs Created Plus), which quantifies a player's total offensive value adjusted for park factors.

David Ortiz, Jose Altuve, Mike Trout, Daniel Murphy and Kris Bryant are currently the top five, with Cruz (145) 12th, Seager (137) 20th and Cano (136) 21st.

What does this mean for the Mariners? You better not write them off in the crowded race for the American League's two Wild Card spots.

Seager's three-run jack

Seattle, 7 1/2 games behind Texas in the AL West, is currently fourth in the AL Wild Card race, only two games behind Baltimore. That's after a tough three days when the Mariners lost twice at home to the Yankees and had a victory get away from them against the White Sox.

The Mariners' bullpen couldn't protect a 6-3 lead to the White Sox, losing 7-6 on Todd Frazier's liner down the left-field line off Nick Vincent. They have lost some of the momentum they had built earlier in August, but they are still a dangerous team, especially given the relatively soft schedule they play down the stretch.

Frazier's walk-off single

While the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Orioles fight it out in the deeper AL East, they have a total of 12 games remaining against A's and Angels, who are battling to avoid fifth place in the AL West. But for any of that to matter, the Mariners are going to have to get hot again.

Seager was out of the lineup while nursing a bruised right foot, but he should be back later in this four-game, weekend series at U.S. Cellular Field, possibly even Friday night when Seattle faces Chris Sale.

Cano and Cruz provided a nice demonstration of their impact against White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo in the series opener. Cano's majestic drive into the bleachers beyond the visitors' bullpen in right was the exclamation point in a stretch where the No. 3 and 4 hitters helped the Mariners score six runs in three times around the lineup against Ranaudo.

Cruz's sacrifice fly

Back-to-back long flyouts from Cano and Cruz got Seth Smith home from second base in the first inning. They both had one-out singles to start the three-run sixth inning that ended Ranaudo's evening.

Cano's homer was his 29th, moving him within four of the career high he set for the Yankees in 2012. Cruz, who led the AL with 40 homers in 2014 for the Orioles, hit 44 last season and has 32 with 5 1/2 weeks left to play.

They're delivering exactly what was expected of them when they signed in Seattle as free agents. The same can be said of Seager, who the Mariners took in the third round of the 2009 Draft from the University of North Carolina.

Seager is hitting .286 with 24 homers and 83 RBIs. His .879 OPS ranks fourth among AL third basemen behind reigning AL MVP Award winner Josh Donaldson, Manny Machado and Evan Longoria.

Seager's solo home run

The Mariners are trying to reach the postseason for the first time since 2001. They'd be doing it under rookie manager Scott Servais, who replaced Lloyd McClendon after a disappointing 2015 season when they outscored only the Rays and White Sox, and despite new general manager Jerry Dipoto having traded away Mark Trumbo and Brad Miller, who have combined for 63 home runs.

Trumbo, of course, was never a good fit for a team that already had Cruz penciled into the designated-hitter spot. Miller was expendable because Seattle felt he'd played his way out of shortstop, with Ketel Marte considered a major defensive upgrade.

Dipoto seemingly made a move a day after taking over for Jack Zduriencik late last season. He's helped out his rotation greatly by importing Leonys Martin to play center field and constructing an entirely new bullpen now anchored by strikeout machine Edwin Diaz, who opened this season as a Doubler-A starter.

Getting leads to their closer remains an issue for the Mariners, as it does for most teams. But they were doing it on a regular basis when they won 11 of 13 earlier in the month, and they can do it again.

Seattle's lineup is not going to be shut down very often, not with Cano, Cruz and Seager in the middle of it. September is coming fast, and it should be a blast.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.