Since the Mariners enter Sunday in the second Wild Card spot in the American League, Seattle is guaranteed to enter the All-Star break holding one of the AL's playoff spots for the first time since 2003. Of course, that doesn't mean the Mariners are assured to end their 12-year playoff drought -- after all, they ended up losing the division in 2003 to Oakland.
But they can better their positioning even more by topping the Athletics, who complete the first half looking like the favorites to top the American League West for the third consecutive year. To beat Oakland, the Mariners will rely on someone who wasn't even expected to be in the Mariners' rotation in Spring Training.
Chris Young will take the hill to conclude an outstanding first half. The 6-foot-10 Young is 8-5 with a 3.08 ERA in 17 starts after signing a one-year deal with Seattle on March 27, just prior to the start of the regular season.
It took Seattle just one day to pounce on the veteran once he was released by Washington in March, and the move has paid off immensely. He's helped solidify a Mariners rotation that ranked second to the A's in ERA heading into Saturday's games.
"He's been great," said manager Lloyd McClendon. "Coming into Spring Training, I didn't know what to expect, but I couldn't have expected this. He's been outstanding."
Young is 5-3 with a 2.65 ERA over his last nine starts, and 3-1, 1.69 in his last four outings. As a fly-ball pitcher, Young has been particularly effective in Safeco Field, where he's 8-2 with a 2.81 ERA in 13 career starts. The 35-year-old is 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA in seven appearances against the A's, including 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in three games (two starts) this year.
"I try work ahead, elevate the fastball, keep the breaking balls down, change speeds and be aggressive in the strike zone," Young said.
Oakland will go with Sonny Gray, who has been a pleasant surprise in his own way for A's fans in 2014. The youngster had high expectations heading into this season after posting a 2.67 ERA in 12 regular-season appearances last season, which preceded two stellar postseason outings that saw him allow just three runs in 13 innings. Not every postseason breakout leads to sustained success -- but Gray has shown he's the real deal so far, recording a 2.97 ERA in 18 starts and leading the AL for part of the season with a sub-2.00 ERA through mid-May.
The A's have won Gray's last four starts, and in his last outing, he allowed just one run in seven innings in his first career appearance against rival San Francisco.
Mariners: Zunino to be back in lineup Sunday
After getting the day off Saturday, catcher Mike Zunino will be back in the lineup for Sunday's series finale against the A's.
The 23-year-old had the sixth-most innings played of any catcher in the Major Leagues going into Saturday's games at 662 2/3, and McClendon acknowledged Zunino's had a little heavier workload than the club would like with such a young player.
"Obviously, we played him a little more than we probably wanted to early on, but he's fine," McClendon said. "And he's done a nice job for us."
Jesus Sucre, called up to replace veteran John Buck on Tuesday, got his first start Saturday and will likely play about two games a week going forward, McClendon said.
Athletics: Callaspo placed on DL
The Athletics placed infielder Alberto Callaspo on the 15-day disabled list with a Grade 2 right hamstring strain and recalled infielder Andy Parrino from Triple-A Sacramento on Saturday afternoon.
Callaspo had to leave Friday night's 3-2 loss to the Mariners in the second inning after he came up clutching the back of his right leg while running out a slow ground ball fielded by Seattle shortstop Brad Miller.
Callaspo, 31, has played four different positions for Oakland -- third base, first base, second base and designated hitter -- this season and is batting .234 with three home runs and 31 RBIs in 83 games. This marks the third trip to the disabled list of his career, and his first while playing for the A's.
"We felt like it would be at least seven days before he'd be able to do anything," said Oakland manager Bob Melvin. "You do the best you can to try to get him back before the 15-day period, but it all starts with at least a week's worth of rest. That would suggest we needed to DL him."
• Marines closer Fernando Rodney, named to the AL All-Star Team on Saturday as a replacement for Tampa Bay's David Price, is one save shy of 200 for his career after closing out Friday's 3-2 win over the A's. Rodney leads the AL with 27 saves, and his 112 saves since the start of the 2012 season are the second most in the Majors in that span behind Atlanta's Craig Kimbrel (120).
• A's outfielders have 26 assists, which is second in the Majors and eclipses by one Oakland's season total from last season.
Will Laws is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.