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Jun 29, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodriguez (44) runs towards first base after hitting a 2-run home run against the Baltimore Orioles during the fourth inning at T-Mobile Park. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Mariners begin the post-All Star break as the hottest team in baseball — winners of 14 straight games, one short of the club record for longest winning streak in franchise history.

Their 21-year-old rookie center fielder, Julio Rodriguez, had his national coming-out party in Monday night’s Home Run Derby, and there are reinforcements coming.

Outfielder Kyle Lewis, the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year, and slugging first baseman Mitch Haniger, who posted career highs with 39 home runs and 100 RBIs in 2021, have combined for just 51 plate appearances this season. However, Lewis (concussion) is already on a rehab assignment and could be back as soon as this weekend. Haniger (COVID-19, high ankle sprain) is beginning a rehab assignment this weekend and, barring a setback, he should be back in the next couple of weeks.

The Mariners face an immediate challenge coming out of the break: They play the AL West-leading Houston Astros this weekend in Seattle, and 13 of their next 20 games come against either the Astros or powerhouse New York Yankees, the unanimous No. 1 team in Bally Sports’ MLB Power Rankings for a seventh straight week.

But here’s the No. 1 reason Seattle — which was eliminated from the playoffs on the last day of the regular season last year and haven’t been in the postseason since 2001 — will end its drought in 2022.

Of the Mariners’ last 49 regular-season games, 37 will come against teams with losing records. Their last 20 contests will be against teams — Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers — who are a combined 89 games under .500 as second-half play begins. Seattle has yet to play the Tigers this season, but it’s 21-10 against the other four teams.

So while the teams in the AL East, all of whom are .500 or better, spend the next couple of months beating up on each other, the Mariners are a good bet to take advantage of a favorable second-half slate before MLB adopts a balanced schedule.

In a sense, they overachieved last season. Their 91 wins far exceeded projections for a team that was outscored by 51 runs. But after losing back-to-back shutouts to the Angels at the end of a 2-9 home stand to drop 10 games under .500 on June 19, Seattle is 22-3. That’s obviously the best record in baseball over that stretch, four games better than the Astros, with just four other teams having winning records.

Rodriguez has been the offensive catalyst, posting a .301/.365/.634 slash line with eight home runs and 22 RBIs. In July, five players have an OPS of .800 or better, including first baseman Carlos Santana, who came over from Kansas City and filled in nicely for Ty France, a last-minute addition to the AL All-Star team after returning from a flexor strain in his left forearm that sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

Seattle’s bullpen leads the majors in ERA, WHIP, strikeout percentage, opponents’ batting average and WAR in that stretch, and the rotation is far more formidable now that left-hander Robbie Ray added a sinker to his mix and has regained the form that led to the AL Cy Young Award last season in Toronto. In his last seven starts, Ray has posted a 1.36 ERA while striking out 58 and walking just 11 in 46 1/3 innings. The Mariners have won six of those starts.

Manager Scott Servais is adjusting his rotation coming out of the break, inserting right-handed ace Logan Gilbert (10-3, 2.76 ERA) between ground-ball inducing lefty Marco Gonzales and Ray. Rookie George Kirby, the team’s No. 4 starter, was sent down to Triple A, in part to limit his innings load, but he should be back soon.

And general manager Jerry Dipoto, whose trades for France, Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker and Santana have paid dividends, almost certainly will be busy before the Aug. 2 trading deadline.

The addition of two new wild cards in each league assures the presence of more teams playing meaningful games in September. The AL East (Yankees), AL West (Astros) and National League West (Los Angeles Dodgers) already are all but decided, leaving races in the AL Central (Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Guardians, Chicago White Sox), NL East (New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and possibly the Philadelphia Phillies) and NL Central (Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals).

But in the AL, the eight teams in wild-card contention are separated by just 3 1/2 games going into the season’s second half. The spread is even tighter in the NL with six clubs within a half-game.

The Mariners, who on June 19 were a season-worst 10 games below .500 at 29-39, resume play in the AL’s No. 2 wild card, one game behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Seattle’s rise in the standings is once again reflected in the staff vote for our latest power rankings. After jumping from 17th to 11th last week, the Mariners move up three spots to No. 8.

MLB Power Rankings

Rankings are determined by staff vote

Records and statistics are through July 17

1. New York Yankees (64-28, Last week: 1)

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (60-31, LW: 3)

3. Houston Astros (59-32, LW: 2)

4. New York Mets (58-35, LW: 4)

5. Atlanta Braves (52-35, LW: 5)

6. Tampa Bay Rays (51-41, LW: 12)

7. San Diego Padres (52-42, LW: 6)

8. Seattle Mariners (51-42, LW: 11)

9t. Milwaukee Brewers (50-43, LW: 8)

9t. Toronto Blue Jays (50-43, LW: 14)

11. Philadelphia Phillies (49-43, LW: 9)

12. Boston Red Sox (48-45, LW: 7)

13. St. Louis Cardinals (50-44, LW: 13)

14. Minnesota Twins (50-44, LW: 10)

15. San Francisco Giants (48-43, LW: 15t)

16. Cleveland Guardians (46-44, LW: 17)

17. Baltimore Orioles (46-46, LW: 15t)

18. Chicago White Sox (46-46, LW: 18)

19. Miami Marlins (43-48, LW: 19)

20. Colorado Rockies (43-50, LW: 23t)

21. Texas Rangers (41-49, LW: 20)

22. Arizona Diamondbacks (40-52, LW: 22)

23. Los Angeles Angels (39-53, LW: 21)

24t. Pittsburgh Pirates (39-54, LW: 26)

24t. Kansas City Royals (36-56, LW: 28)

26. Detroit Tigers (37-55, LW: 23t)

27. Chicago Cubs (35-57, LW: 25)

28. Cincinnati Reds (34-57, LW: 27)

29. Oakland Athletics (32-61, LW: 29)

30. Washington Nationals (31-63, LW: 30)

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