(Sports Network) - It may end up being too little and too late, but the Seattle Mariners are finally playing like the team that was expected to contend for a postseason spot this season. The resurgent club has its sights set on a seventh consecutive victory and a three-game sweep of the sinking Chicago Cubs when the teams wrap up an interleague series this afternoon at Safeco Field.
Seattle has kept up both its excellent pitching and outstanding overall play as of late over the first two matchups of this set. After blanking the Cubs by a 2-0 count in Tuesday's opener, the Mariners received another complete-game performance by Cliff Lee in an 8-1 rout of Chicago last night.
Lee (6-3) scattered nine hits and struck out nine without a walk in going the distance for the third time in his last four starts. The standout southpaw's only run allowed came on a solo homer by the Cubs' Tyler Colvin in the second inning.
"I definitely had command most all my pitches I threw tonight," Lee said afterward. "I made a few mistakes, the homer was a fastball down the middle, but other than that I stayed out of the heart of the plate and we made plays."
Lee's result was typical of Seattle hurlers during the course of this win streak. The Mariners have given up a mere three runs over their six victories and the starting rotation has produced a sensational 0.57 earned run average over that stretch.
Seattle's offense got in the act as well on Wednesday. Michael Saunders went 2-for-3 with a homer and runs driven in, while Ichiro Suzuki delivered a two- RBI single during a four-run fourth inning that put the Mariners ahead for good.
All that scoring came against Chicago starter Randy Wells (3-6), who was tagged for six runs on 10 hits in a six-inning stint. He also walked a pair of batters, including one to Saunders with the bases loaded that preceded Suzuki's game-breaking single.
"The big thing was the walk with the bases loaded to the ninth hitter to get to Ichiro," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Ichiro singles up the middle and they got a 4-1 lead. In this park, with Lee pitching, that's a pretty nice margin."
Chicago has now lost four of its last five contests and has mustered one run or less in three of those defeats. The task doesn't figure to get any easier for the Cubs this afternoon, with Mariners co-ace Felix Hernandez set to toe the rubber in the finale.
Hernandez has certainly played a role in Seattle's pitching resurgence. The 2009 American League Cy Young Award runner-up is 3-1 over his last four starts and has allowed two runs or fewer in four of his five most recent assignments, while working at least eight innings in all but one of those games.
The All-Star right-hander enters today's tilt off a complete-game five-hitter in the Mariners' 5-1 triumph over Cincinnati last Saturday. Hernandez struck out nine batters in the win, matching his total in a June 13 besting of San Diego in which he yielded two runs on just four hits over 8 2/3 frames.
Hernandez has never previously faced the Cubs, but boasts a 10-4 career record with a 2.89 ERA in 18 career starts against NL teams. That includes a 5-1 interleague mark in eight matchups held at Safeco Field.
He'll be trying to pitch Seattle to its first seven-game win streak since the club ripped off eight consecutive victories from June 23-July 1, 2007.
Ted Lilly will try to get Chicago back on track, as well as atone for a subpar showing in his last start, when he takes the mound for the visitors this afternoon. The veteran left-hander was roughed up by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this past Saturday, surrendering a season-high eight runs (six earned) on nine hits -- including a pair of homers -- over 5 1/3 innings in a 12-0 Cubs' loss.
Lilly had been on an excellent roll prior to that shellacking. He limited Milwaukee to a run while striking out eight in an eight-inning no-decision on June 8, then took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in leading the Cubs to a 1-0 verdict over the rival White Sox five days later.
The 34-year-old has posted a respectable 3.42 ERA in 11 starts for the season, but has only a 2-6 record to show for his efforts. The Cubs haven't helped Lilly's cause that much, with the team scoring two runs or less in eight of his appearances.
Lilly is 4-6 with a 5.85 ERA in 15 career games (13 starts) against Seattle and will be taking on the Mariners for the first time since 2006, while then a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Cubs are making their second-ever visit to Seattle with this series, having taken two of three tilts from the Mariners at Safeco Field back in 2002. Chicago also won two of three from Seattle at Wrigley Field during the 2007 season.