Mariners Continue Winning Ways

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For Seattle manager Scott Servais it’s easy to see why Robinson Cano is so successful with runners in scoring position.

”He uses the whole field,” Servais said. ”He’s not trying to hit homers. He’s not trying to kill the ball. He’s just using his hands.”

He did that again on Thursday night, driving in four runs including a tiebreaking three-run double in the ninth inning to lift the Mariners to their fourth straight win, 6-3 over the Houston Astros

The bases were loaded with one out in the ninth when Cano cleared them with his double off Luke Gregerson (0-1) that sailed just out of reach of center fielder Carlos Gomez.

”I’ve been looking for my pitch,” Cano said. ”I’m not trying to do too much. Even if you can get one run at a time, sometimes as a hitter if you’re trying to get two or three, that’s when (bad) things happen. I’m just trying to work the middle of the field.”

Houston manager A.J. Hinch was disappointed that his bullpen put Cano in the situation to come up with such a big hit.

”Cano … is a dangerous hitter,” Hinch said. ”He gets even more dangerous as the stakes get a little higher.”

Cano, who had three hits to give him at least two in five straight games, also drove in a run in the third inning to give him four RBIs and an American League-leading 30 this season.

”If you look at the at-bats he finds a way to get into good counts,” Servais said. ”He’s aggressive but he’s looking for his pitch.”

Nick Vincent (2-1) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the win and Steve Cishek allowed one hit in the ninth for his ninth save.

Jose Altuve homered and tied a career-high with four hits and had two RBIs for the Astros.

Tyler White snapped a 0 for 16 skid with a double to start Houston’s seventh and Jason Castro walked with one out. Altuve hit a double, which landed on Tal’s Hill in center field, scoring White to tie it at 3-3, but Castro was tagged out at home.

Norichika Aoki greeted Tony Sipp with a single to load the bases in the seventh before Seth Smith’s groundball single rolled just out of reach of a diving Altuve and into right field to score two and make it 3-2.

Altuve, who leads the Astros with nine homers, gave them an early lead when he sent Wade Miley’s third pitch onto the train tracks atop left field for his second straight leadoff homer and major league-leading sixth this season. His six leadoff homers are the most by an Astro since Craig Biggio also had six in 2006.

Cano’s RBI single tied it at 1-1 in the third inning. The Astros took a 2-1 lead on an RBI single by Evan Gattis in the sixth inning.

Houston starter Chris Devenski allowed six hits and one run in six innings in his second start and eighth major league appearance.

Miley allowed five hits and two runs with five strikeouts in six innings.

SECOND BASE ADMIRATION

Cano is a big fan of fellow second baseman Altuve and said he enjoys watching him play. ”He’s a guy that anytime he swings you know something good is going to happen,” Cano said. ”It’s always fun to watch guys, especially at second base, be (as) successful as he’s been the last 3-4 years. He’s great.”

 

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Mariners Take 2 of 3 From Yankees

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Alex Rodriguez took an immediate liking to his new spot lower in the batting order.

Dropped three rungs to sixth in a struggling lineup, Rodriguez hit a two-run homer that snapped his hitless skid and sent the New York Yankees past the Seattle Mariners 4-3 on Sunday, ending their four-game losing streak.

Sometimes you’ve got to do that, you’ve got to shuffle the deck a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “Whatever it takes to win.”

Masahiro Tanaka topped old pal Hisashi Iwakuma in the first major league pitching matchup of former Japanese teammates, a game that was broadcast live on television back home — at 2 a.m. in Tokyo.

Brett Gardner had three hits, including an RBI double that stopped New York’s 0-for-30 stretch with runners in scoring position. He scored the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch by Iwakuma (0-2) in the fifth inning.

Still, the Yankees continued to struggle at the plate in clutch situations, finishing the three-game series 1 for 35 with RISP.

“You don’t ever want to get swept, especially at home,” Gardner said. “I thought we played pretty well today.”

New York salvaged a win thanks in large part to Tanaka (1-0), who yielded three runs — two earned — and six hits in seven efficient innings. He struck out six and walked none, improving to 4-0 in four career starts against Seattle.

Tanaka worked out of a bases-loaded jam in a 24-pitch first inning, when Kyle Seager drove in a run with a groundout. The right-hander needed only 93 pitches to get through seven.

“Just extremely satisfied being able to get that win,” Tanaka said through a translator.

Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller combined to strike out all six batters they faced on 13 pitches apiece, with Miller working the ninth for his third save.

“It seems whatever I do, he does it better,” Betances said. “We feed off each other.”

Said catcher Brian McCann: “Those guys are ridiculous.”

Steve Clevenger had an RBI single for the Mariners, who had won three straight following a five-game slide. Nori Aoki tripled and scored on Seth Smith’s single.

Iwakuma, teammates with Tanaka from 2007-11 on the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, was charged with four runs and eight hits in seven innings.

“I was very excited to face (my) ex-teammate,” Iwakuma said through a translator. “Just watching him, in general, he was pitching with composure and he kept the ball down. Looking at that, I said to myself, `I’ve got to keep the ball down, too.’ And I was able to make adjustments, but it was kind of too late.”

Rodriguez homered on the first pitch he saw after Iwakuma plunked McCann in the second inning. The 40-year-old designated hitter was without a hit in his previous 19 at-bats, two shy of matching the longest drought of his career.

The three-time MVP sent an 86 mph fastball into the lower-deck seats in left field. It was the 689th home run for Rodriguez, who ranks fourth on the career list.

A season after hitting 33 home runs, A-Rod began the day batting .100 (3 for 30) with one homer and two RBIs. Carlos Beltran, off to an excellent start this season, was moved up two spots to No. 3 in the Yankees’ lineup.

“It’s not necessarily permanent,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I just thought I would change it up a little bit today. I’m not sure what I’ll do on Tuesday.”

HATS OFF

Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury lost his glove, cap and sunglasses when he dove for Aoki’s triple and went chasing after the ball without any of them in a scene straight out of Little League. “I realized I was running after there with nothing,” Ellsbury said. “Maybe it made me faster.”

LIGHTS OUT

Betances has fanned 15 of 24 batters this season, recording each of his last eight outs and 14 of the past 15 via strikeout. Miller has whiffed his last seven hitters and 12 of 17 overall this year. “I don’t think it’s worth the effort trying to keep up with Dellin,” Miller said. “He’s better than everybody.”

Mariners Home Opener

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For the second straight season, young Seattle Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker will make his season debut against the Oakland Athletics.

Almost any result will be better than Walker’s first start against the A’s to begin last year. He gave up nine earned runs, nine hits and didn’t make it through the fourth inning.

”I definitely want to go out there and have a good outing against them, because last year they got me pretty well. I guess a little payback this time,” Walker said.

The Mariners return to the Pacific Northwest on Friday night to kick off their home slate with a three-game series against the A’s. Friday will include all pomp and circumstance of a traditional opening day – including new Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. throwing out the first pitch – plus some curiosity about this year’s Mariners.

Can the power surge Seattle displayed in Texas, led by four home runs by Robinson Cano, continue at home?

The Mariners hit nine home runs in the three-game series in Texas, where Seattle won two of three and likely should have swept. Cano was the instigator of the power surge, becoming the 29th player in major league history to homer in each of the first three games of the season.

It’ll be the task of Oakland lefty Eric Surkamp to try to slow the Mariners. Surkamp is replacing Felix Doubront, who suffered an elbow sprain in his final spring training start last week.

Surkamp appeared in one game last season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing four runs in 3 1-3 innings, and his last start came in 2013 for San Francisco.

“At the beginning of the spring, we didn’t see him in the rotation, but he earned it,” manager Bob Melvin told MLB’s official website.

He’ll be opposed by Walker, who finished last season with an 11-8 mark and a 4.56 ERA. The Mariners didn’t want to overwork his arm so he didn’t pitch in late September after reaching 169 innings.

Walker admitted at times last season to pitching with the worry of being sent to the minors if he struggled, but said he’s more comfortable with his position this year.

”I feel pretty good where I’m at right now,” Walker said. ”I know (James) Paxton’s down there waiting, and he’s really good and any time he can come up here. I know I have to go out there and get my work in, and pretty much do my job and do what I can to help my teammates.”

New Seattle manager Scott Servais said the key for Walker on Friday and throughout the season is going to be his secondary pitches and not always relying on his fastball.

”I think he will be juiced up, but I think you’ll see a really good fastball,” Servais said. ”The thing with Taijuan is the secondary stuff, can he harness it, can he get it in the strike zone and be the complete pitcher, and doesn’t get locked into one pitch. I’m excited for him to get that opportunity and I think he’s ready for it.”

Friday will also be the home debut for Servais as manager. He won over many of his players and fans with a fiery display in Tuesday’s 10-2 win when he yelled and pointed at the Texas bench after Chris Iannetta was hit by a pitch.

”I know the city is excited, a lot of change, a lot of good vibe around our organization,” Servais said. ”Rightly so, and I think they’re going to like watching us play.”

The fans enjoyed watching them play the A’s in 2015, as the Mariners went 13-6 in the series.

Nelson Cruz spurred that success, hitting .333 with five homers and 12 RBIs. A matchup against Surkamp will be favorable to the slugger, whose 14 homers against lefties last season were tied for the most in the majors and .357 average versus southpaws was fourth-best.

The A’s opened 2016 by dropping three of four at home to the Chicago White Sox. Offense was their biggest problem as they scored 10 runs while batting .212 with six extra-base hits.

Mark Canha has hit Oakland’s lone home run and went 3 for 3 with a homer against Walker last season.

 

ESPN and Stephen Smith being Sued

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A year and a day ago, Chicago-based Jackie Robinson West Little League was stripped of its Little League Baseball U.S. championship. Now the parents and coaches who were called out for manipulating residency loopholes in the Little League registration system are fighting back, and ESPN and talking head Stephen A. Smith are two of the primary targets.

As noted by our USA TODAY Sports Media Group friends at The Big Lead, parents and coaches filed suit against a host of different parties on Thursday, with counts of Defamation and False Light aimed at both Stephen A. Smith and ESPN, his employer. You can read the full text of the filing right here. The counts are in reference to an episode of First Take, where Smith eviscerated the Jackie Robinson West leaders, going so far as to intimate that he was ashamed a league named after Jackie Robinson would have perpetrated fraudulent roster manipulation.

In fact, Smith’s language was quite a bit more vitriolic than that:

“I’d like to see it again … let’s put Darold Butler and Michael Kelly’s face up on television, treat it like the mugshot it deserves to be treated like,” Smith said on First Take, as you can see below.

The Jackie Robinson West suit also brings claims against Little League itself and the Chicago-area whistleblower who initially reported the league for its residency manipulation. Still, it’s the claims against Smith and ESPN that are sure to generate the most headlines, and perhaps hold the most water in a court of law. Regardless of final result, simply bringing the suit shines a light back on those who criticized Jackie Robinson West, even if they did so fairly of their own accord.

Mariner Legend Dave Henderson Passes

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Former major league outfielder Dave Henderson, best remebered for his dramatic home run in Game 5 of the 1986 ALCS, died Sunday. He was 57.

Henderson debuted with the Mariners in 1981 and played in the big leagues through 1994. He was a key member of the A’s when the team made three straight World Series appearances from 1988 to 1990, winning it all in the earthquake series of 1989. He also played in the 1986 World Series as a member of the Red Sox.

Boston may never have been in that Fall Classic in the first place had it not been for Henderson’s heroics. The California Angels were leading the ALCS 3-1 when Henderson came to bat with two outs and the Angels leading 5-4 in the top of the ninth. With two strikes, he hit a two-run homer to give the Red Sox the lead. The Angels tied it in the bottom of the inning, but Boston won the game in the 11th on Henderson’s sacrifice fly and eventually won the series.

A .258/.320/.436 lifetime hitter with 197 homers, Henderson was an AL All-Star in 1991. He was mostly a center fielder throughout his career.

5 Defining Moments of Royals Run to Championship.

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The Kansas City Royals ended a 30-year championship drought by beating the New York Mets 7-2 in 12 innings in World Series Game 5 on Sunday night.

 

1. Eric Hosmer’s Mad Dash

Late-game rallies were the emergent theme of the Royals’ playoff run, so of course a comeback clinched the champagne. Kansas City batted better than .320 and scored more than 40% of their runs in the seventh inning or later this postseason. The Mets’ Matt Harvey shut them out for eight innings in Game 5, but after three batters in the ninth, the Royals had scored once and moved the tying run to third for Salvador Perez. The catcher chopped a ball to third against a drawn-in infield — as David Wright threw to first, Hosmer broke for home and scored when Duda threw wide of the plate.

2. ALDS Comeback

The defending AL pennant-winning Royals trailed the upstart Houston Astros 6-2 entering the top of the eighth inning of ALDS Game 4, six outs from an untimely elimination. Then the Royals came back in the most Royal way possible: five straight singles, followed by an Astros error, tied the score. A run-scoring groundout later plated the go-ahead run, as Kansas City scored five in the inning without the aid of an extra-base hit.

3. Their first swing of the World Series

Naturally, it came on the first pitch of the first inning because that’s what leadoff hitter Alcides Escobar does — unless he’s hit by a pitch, as happened in the ALDS, or knocked down by high heat, as the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard famously did in World Series Game 3. In Game 1, however, Escobar swung at Matt Harvey’s first-pitch fastball and lofted a ball deep to the left-center gap where the two Mets outfielders converged but failed to make the catch, with the ball ricocheting off center fielder Yoenis Cespedes’ leg for an inside-the-park home run that set the tone for the series.

4. Alex Gordon’s game-tying HR

The Royals were down to their final two outs in the ninth inning of Game 1, with Mets closer Jeurys Familia — dominant all postseason — on the mound. That’s when Familia quick pitched but left a splitter up in the zone that Gordon absolutely destroyed some 430-feet to centerfield for a game-tying home run en route to a 14-inning victory.

5. Edinson Volquez’s tribute start

Volquez pitched a quality start in World Series Game 1 without knowing, at his wife’s request, that his father had just passed away. After returning to the Dominican Republic for the wake and funeral, he rejoined the Royals and made his scheduled Game 5 start in honor of his father. Volquez etched his father’s initials in the dirt on the mound and spoke lovingly of how his dad got him started in baseball. “He was everything for me,” he said. Though he didn’t win, Volquez allowed just one earned run in six innings.

Royals Go Up 2-0 on Mets

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Following the final out, after Johnny Cueto completed his two-hitter, several hundred fans remained in Kauffman Stadium, wanting one more look at the Kansas City Royals.

The next time they see Eric Hosmer and his teammates may be in a parade.

After smothering the Mets 7-1 Wednesday night with Cueto and their pesky offense, the Royals have a 2-0 World Series lead and can capture their first title since 1985 when play resumes at New York’s Citi Field this weekend.

BOX SCORE:  ROYALS 7, METS 1

Rather than look ahead and anticipate a celebration, Hosmer thought back to Kansas City’s crushing seven-game loss to the Giants in 2014.

“There’s still a lot of work yet to do,” he said. “Last year we took a 2-1 lead in San Francisco and were feeling pretty good about ourselves.”

Kansas City wore down Jacob deGrom with persistence and prowess, then pounced. Hosmer hit a tiebreaking, two-run single with two outs in a four-run fifth inning that included 14 foul balls.

Nineteen hours after Hosmer’s sacrifice fly won a 14-inning thriller, Cueto varied his delivery with occasional quick pitches and kept the Mets off balance. An excited crowd stood on its feet for long stretches to cheer on the rainy night. Some fans wore wigs resembling Cueto’s long, dark dreadlocks — including the Royals’ mascot, Slugerrr.

After Thursday’s day off, Citi Field hosts its first Series game Friday. Forty-one of the 51 teams to take 2-0 leads in best-of-seven World Series have gone on to win the title, including nine straight since Atlanta stumbled against the New York Yankees in 1996.

“I don’t want it coming back here,” Alcides Escobar said. “I want to finish it there.”

Kansas City had the best contact hitters in the major leagues this season, missing on just 19.7 percent of swings, according to STATS. The Dodgers and Cubs swung and missed 58 times in deGrom’s first three postseason outings; even though he threw at up to 98 mph, deGrom got just three swings and misses against the Royals — his career low.

We don’t swing and miss,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “We find ways to just keep putting the ball in play until you find holes.”

Of deGrom’s 94 pitches, 23 were fouled off.

“I’ve learned that they hit mistakes very well,” Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud said. “I’ve learned that they don’t try to do too much with the baseball. They keep the line moving.”

Cueto has struggled on the road, where opposing fans taunt him by repeating his name in a sing-song voice. But since the Royals acquired the free-agent-to-be from Cincinnati in July, he’s been Johnny on the spot at Kauffman Stadium. He pitched two-hit ball over eight innings to win Game 5 of the Division Series against Houston, and Kansas City lined up its Series rotation to have Cueto starting Games 2 and 6 at home.

 

World Series Breakdown

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Game 1: Mets (Matt Harvey, 13-8, 2.71 ERA) at Royals (Edinson Volquez, 13-9, 3.55 ERA), Tuesday, 5:07 p.m. PST.

Game 2: Mets (Jacob deGrom, 14-8, 2.54 ERA) at Royals (Johnny Cueto, 11-13, 3.44), Wednesday, 5:07 p.m. PST.

Game 3: Royals (Yordano Ventura, 13-8, 4.08 ERA) at Mets (Noah Syndergaard, 9-7, 3.24 ERA), Friday, 5:07 p.m. PST.

Game 4: Royals (Chris Young, 11-6, 3.06) at Mets (Steven Matz, 4-0. 2.27), Saturday, 5:07 p.m. PST.

Game 5*: Royals (Volquez) at Mets (Harvey), Sunday, 5:15 p.m. PST.

Game 6*: Mets (deGrom) at Royals (Cueto), Nov. 3, 5:07 p.m. PST.

Game 7*: Mets (Syndergaard) at Royals (Ventura), Nov. 4, 5:07 p.m. PST.

(* if necessary)

The case for the Royals: The Royals have been on a mission to get back to the World Series from the moment they fell short in Game 7 last year, with the tying run on third base. They have the experience of going through the playoff gauntlet, which they hope to use to their advantage. Over the past two seasons, the Royals have won 18 of 26 postseason games.

In both of their previous playoff series this year, the Royals offense has showed the ability to rally from behind. Facing elimination in the division series against Houston, they exploded for seven runs over the final two innings to win Game 4.

In Game 2 of the ALCS, Kansas City scored five runs in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jays ace David Price to grab a 2-0 lead. In Game 4, the Royals blew open a close one with nine runs over the final three innings. In all, they’ve averaged 5.7 runs per game in the playoffs. Triggering the attack is leadoff man and ALCS MVP Alcides Escobar, who’s hitting .386 in the playoffs (with a .408 on-base percentage) after hitting .257 in the regular season (with a .293 OBP).

Dangerous when behind, the Royals are deadly when they’re ahead. Luke Hochevar, Kelvin Herrera and closer Wade Davis have combined to allow one earned run this postseason in 21 innings (0.43 ERA), with 28 strikeouts and six walks.

The case for the Mets: The Mets – especially second baseman Daniel Murphy – are peaking at the perfect time. After sweeping the Chicago Cubs in the NL championship series, the Mets have won their last five postseason games. Meanwhile, Murphy has hit a home run in a playoff-record six consecutive games.

The Mets are a much better offensive team in October than they were in the first half of the regular season. The addition of outfielders Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline and Michael Conforto from the minors, plus the return of third baseman David Wright helped the Mets go from 28th in the majors in scoring before the All-Star break (3.5 runs per game) to third overall (5.1 runs per game).

The overpowering starting pitching that’s carried the Mets all season has continued in the postseason. Mets starters are 6-2 with a 2.65 ERA in nine playoff starts, holding opponents to a collective .217 batting average. And closer Jeurys Familia has yet to allow a run in 9 2/3 postseason innings.

Strength vs. strength: In Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the Mets have three starting pitchers whose fastballs averaged at least 95 mph during the 2015 regular season. The Royals have the majors’ best batting average against pitches 95 mph or better.

Kansas City hitters also had the highest contact rate in the majors this season at 81.9% as well as the lowest walk rate (6.3%). Meanwhile, Mets starters had the top strikeout-to-walk rate (4.18) during the regular season.

That sets up a classic confrontation that we’ll see often in the Fall Classic.

The X factors: Two players acquired by their teams at the trade deadline could have a major impact in how the Series unfolds.

Cespedes has been such an offensive force since coming to New York, hitting .287 with 17 home runs and 44 RBI in 57 regular season games. However, he injured his left shoulder during the NL championship series and admits he’s not 100% healthy. Cespedes will be ready to go when the Series starts.

On the other side, right-hander Johnny Cueto was supposed to be the ace starter the Royals needed to put them over the top. Instead, he’s been wildly inconsistent. Cueto started and won the decisive Game 5 in the division series at home, allowing only a two-run homer in eight brilliant innings and retiring the last 19 batters he faced. But in Game 3 of the ALCS in Toronto, he was shelled for eight runs and was pulled with no outs in the third inning.

Royals manager Ned Yost has slotted Cueto in the No. 2 spot in the rotation so he would be in line to pitch both Games 2 and 6 at home.

Unfamiliar opponents: Unlike last season when the Royals and San Francisco Giants played a series against each other during the regular season, the Royals and Mets haven’t seen each other since 2013.

In the end: Good pitching tends to stop good hitting in the playoffs, but the Royals’ high-contact approach keeps them from going into prolonged slumps. Kansas City also has an advantage defensively, ranking second in the majors in Defensive Runs Saved. (The Mets ranked 21st.)

Look for the Royals to use the four games at home to maximum advantage. Designated hitter Kendrys Morales (.290, 22 HR, 106 RBI) is a major part of the offense, who also gives Kansas City a dangerous pinch-hitter for the games played in New York.

In close games, the Royals bullpen has proved to be the ultimate October weapon, which should be enough to preserve any lead the offense can get them.

Prediction: Royals in 7

 

Seattle -Texas Preview

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Cole Hamels’ tenure with the Texas Rangers has gotten off to a rocky start, something he’s not very proud of considering the bold move the club made to acquire him at the trade deadline.

That hasn’t stopped the Rangers from gaining ground in the playoff race.

Texas looks to win eight in a row at home for the first time in more than four years as Hamels takes the mound against the Seattle Mariners on Monday night.

The Rangers (59-57) acquired Hamels in an eight-player trade with Philadelphia on July 31, but they’ve lost both of his starts as the left-hander has allowed nine runs and 16 hits in 13 2-3 innings.

Hamels, 6-8 with a 3.86 ERA in 22 starts this season, was scheduled to pitch Thursday against Minnesota but was scratched because of a groin issue he suffered against Seattle on Aug. 7.

He threw a regular bullpen session Friday.

“It was nice to get on the mound again,” Hamels told MLB’s official website. “To have something like this with a new team, it’s not what you want. You want to come in with guns blazing and throwing shutouts like a couple of guys are doing on their new team. I’d like to be doing that, but it is better to be smart.”

Hamels has allowed five home runs since the trade after surrendering that amount over his final 17 outings with the Phillies. Three came off the bats of former Ranger Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Mark Trumbo 10 days ago.

Despite Hamels’ struggles, Texas has gone 12-5 in its last 17 and trails Baltimore and Los Angeles in a tight race for the second wild card. Adrian Beltre and Ryan Strausborger homered in a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, putting the Rangers on the brink of winning five straight for the first time since a season-best seven-game run May 20-26.

Texas is seeking its first eight-game home win streak since taking nine straight July 4-23, 2011, but Seattle (55-63) has won seven of nine meetings this season, including a three-game sweep in Arlington from April 27-29.

Cruz is batting .459 with five home runs, a triple and two doubles against Texas this year. He hit his major league-high 36th homer and Cano added a two-run shot among his five hits in Sunday’s 10-8, 12-inning win over Boston.