The Oakland A's would be wise to not feel too comfortable atop the American League West. The Angels have received a great deal of attention for their recent surge, but it's the Seattle Mariners who may pose the greatest threat.
Coming off a three-game sweep at the Houston Astros, Seattle has won four straight, 10 of its last 12 and each of its last four series. The red-hot Mariners, who outscored Houston, 28-8, bring their act to Chicago for a three-game set against the White Sox, starting Friday at U.S. Cellular Field.
The White Sox, on the other hand, have been up and down, and have lost three of their past four series -- including dropping two of three games to the Angels. The last time they were at .500 was on June 11, when they were 33-33, and they've gone 7-13 since then.
"You just have to be able to withstand it and keep going," manager Robin Ventura said. "You see the positives that are there, you see the way we play for a run for a certain extent and then you can't sustain it. That's the frustrating part. But the good part, you do see things that are in there that you know it's in there."
On Friday, The White Sox will send lefty ace Chris Sale to the mound. Sale has won two of his last three outings and is 7-1 overall, with a 2.30 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 78 1/3 innings over 12 starts.
Sale posted a 2.79 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in six June starts. He notched a quality start in all but one of those outings, and went seven innings or more four times.
In five career games against the Mariners, three of them starts, Sale is 2-0 with a 2.92 ERA, having allowed eight earned runs in 24 2/3 innings of work while striking out 28.
Seattle will send lefty Roenis Elias to the mound. He is coming off one of his roughest starts of what has been a strong rookie season when he gave up five runs in six innings in a 5-0 loss to the Indians.
"It was just a bad outing," Elias said through a translator. "I didn't make pitches and they hit them."
The 25-year-old from Cuba has gone 7-6 with a 3.96 ERA in 17 starts after making the jump from Double-A to the Mariners rotation this spring. Elias has the second-most innings of any rookie in the Majors with 104 2/3, behind only the Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka, and is fourth in strikeouts.
White Sox: Ventura doesn't expect as much movement
At this point last season, the White Sox were 34-48 and 11 games out of first place. After an 8-19 June, Chicago finished off July 2013 with an 8-18 record, prompting the front office to make moves the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Thus began the club's reshaping process, which is still in the works. The White Sox are 40-46 at the July 4 point this season, a considerable improvement but not one that points to a playoff berth. Chicago is once again likely to deal veterans to help supplement its Minor League system and build for the future.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura, however, doesn't see the upcoming Trade Deadline having the same feeling as last year, when the team traded away veterans Jake Peavy and Matt Thornton, and Alex Rios in August.
"It was bad last year. I think that was a little more in your face," Ventura said. "Here, you see, it's just better, as far as being able to compete with certain teams and playing better. There are spurts of playing better that you see and then a few games that you don't. It's pretty inconsistent, but last year was just bad."
Mariners: Ackley looking to heat up
Left fielder Dustin Ackley hit just .165 in June, one of the few Mariners to struggle in a month when Seattle went 18-10. But the former first-round Draft pick opened July by going 3-for-4 with a walk in Tuesday's 13-2 victory over the Astros.
He followed that up by going 3-for-4 with a double in Wednesday's 5-2 win over Houston.
"We need him to be productive for us to continue to be successful," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. "It's really remarkable we've had the run we've had and he hasn't done much. We need him to step it up and pick up his production."
• The White Sox are 27-7 against the Mariners since 2010 (16-3 at home) and 55-29 since 2004, but the teams split the 2013 matchup, three games apiece, with each taking two of three at its home ballpark.
• Even Mariners ace Felix Hernandez has struggled in the Windy City, where he's 1-5 with a 4.88 ERA in eight starts against the White Sox in his career. Hernandez, named the American League Pitcher of the Month for June, starts Saturday against Jose Quintana.
Joe Popely is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.