SEATTLE -- While the return of Felix Hernandez has been aligned with the Seattle Mariners' battle back into playoff contention, it was the consistency of fellow starter Hisashi Iwakuma that had a more direct effect on Seattle's August boon.
That the Mariners have fallen back in the wild-card race at a time when Iwakuma is struggling is more than simple coincidence.
Iwakuma (14-10) heads into his scheduled Sunday appearance on a three-start losing streak. He's 0-3 with a 5.63 ERA over his past three starts, dating back to Aug. 18. Over that period of just over two weeks, the Mariners (69-66) have gone 5-11. The starting rotation, once a strength of the team, has become a liability. Saturday starter Taijuan Walker was the latest to struggle, allowing six runs without making it out of the first inning in a 10-3 loss to the Angels.
"I did not expect that tonight," manager Scott Servais said.
It's become more the norm than an outlier for the Seattle starter to struggle recently. Not even Iwakuma and Hernandez have been able to avoid getting hit hard as the Mariners sink in the wild-card standings.
It hasn't been a good series for the starting pitchers on either side. The Angels' Tyler Skaggs turned in the best performance of any starter Saturday, but he served up a two-run homer in the first inning. The two teams have combined to score 13 runs in the first inning over the first two games of the series.
"You can't take any inning for granted," Angels star Albert Pujols said after hitting two home runs Saturday night and moving ahead of Frank Robinson into ninth place on the all-time list.
Angels starter Matt Shoemaker may bring better results if he keeps on the pace he's put up in recent starts. Shoemaker (9-13) has added some semblance of stabilization to a starting rotation that's been in shambles for most of the season. He has won each of his past three starts as the struggling Angels (60-75) have begun showing some signs of life. They've won six of seven.
One of Shoemaker's recent wins came over a Seattle team that beat him twice earlier in the season. He'll face the Mariners for the third time this year when the Angels finish their series in Seattle on Sunday afternoon.
Shoemaker has been one of the few bright spots for a Los Angeles rotation that's already used 13 different starters. The Angels have tried to resurrect the career of former Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and have rolled the dice on struggling veterans like Ricky Nolasco, Jhoulys Chacin and Brett Oberholtzer -- with mixed results.
The game will mark the first of back-to-back afternoon games for the Mariners during the holiday weekend. Seattle hosts a three-game series with the AL West-leading Rangers beginning Monday afternoon. Texas has really had the Mariners' number this season, winning the past five meetings while going 11-4 in the head-to-head matchup.