Michael Saunders packed for the All-Star break feeling a lot better about himself than he has for most of the past 3½ months.
The same could be said for his Mariners squad as a whole, which spent much of the season’s first 95 games failing to meet their own lofty expectations. But the team’s first series sweep of the year, capped Sunday with a 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Angels, has the Mariners feeling a lot more confident overall.
Saunders and others hope to carry that confidence into the latter part of the schedule, hoping to chip away at the nine games that separate them from a .500 record.
“We’re playing good baseball right now,’’ Saunders said. “One through nine in the batting order. Starting pitching and bullpen. We lost a tough series to Boston but we played good baseball. And then Anaheim came in here and we didn’t let that previous series get us down.’’
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Saunders hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Joe Blanton to get Seattle’s attack going early. It was the 22nd consecutive game in which the Mariners have gone deep, extending a franchise record in what is now the longest such streak in the majors this year.
The crowd of 25,629 at Safeco Field also saw Justin Smoak collect two more hits, while Raul Ibanez doubled in a run as well. Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma gave up a solo homer to Mark Trumbo and then a two-run single in the sixth to Alberto Callaspo that turned a 4-1 lead into a one-run game.
But Iwakuma escaped further trouble, had a perfect seventh inning and preserved a 4-3 lead for Charlie Furbush and Tom Wilhelmsen to safeguard in the eighth and ninth.
The Mariners had suffered letdowns in two previous series against the Angels. In May, they were blown out in a two-game set. Last month, they dropped three of four, including a series finale they led 8-1.
But this sweep and having gone 8-5 against potential contenders has them feeling better. The Mariners are averaging nearly six runs per game in June and scored 48 in seven games this homestand.
Manager Eric Wedge said the sweep was a long time coming.
“It’s hard to win a series, hard to sweep. And when you do that, you make up some ground.’’
And there’s a lot to make up.
“A lot of good things have happened here,’’ Wedge said. “Not just in the last three days, but the last two or three weeks. And you can see where these guys are headed.’’
• The Mariners will send relief pitcher Stephen Pryor to Class A Everett for an injury rehabilitation assignment during the All-Star break.
Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez will work out with Everett, as well. Gutierrez could start an official rehab assignment with AAA Tacoma later this week.