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MIN@SEA: Vargas throws 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball

Mariners players have admitted to keeping an eye on the standings as the team has vaulted back into the fringes of the American League Wild Card race.

A streak of 15 wins in 16 games at Safeco Field has powered Seattle's surge, which has brought the club within seven games of a playoff spot. But if the Mariners are to fight their way into the postseason, they will need to find some success on the road, where they are 28-34 this season, including 3-6 on their most recent trip.

Seattle now will embark on a seven-game swing, starting on Friday night at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field. The Mariners are only 1-5 against the AL Central-leading White Sox this season, including 1-2 in Chicago.

The Mariners will open the three-game series with Jason Vargas on the mound, as the lefty tries to continue his recent run of success. Vargas is 13-8 with a 3.53 ERA overall and 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA in his last 10 games, all quality starts. While Vargas' ERA on the road this season sits at 4.25, it's 1.93 in his last five outings.

On Saturday, Vargas held the Twins to two runs on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.

"I thought he pitched a real good ballgame," Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. "Not as sharp as we've seen him, but what's separated for Jason now is when he's not exactly locked in -- again, I still felt like he threw a real good ballgame -- he's still able to get people out and make pitches."

The White Sox will answer with Jake Peavy, whose team has not provided him with much support of late. The veteran righty -- 9-9 with a 3.11 ERA overall this year -- is 3-8 in his last 14 outings despite posting a 3.13 ERA in that span. Chicago has scored three runs or fewer nine times over that stretch.

Peavy's defense hurt him at Kansas City on Saturday, when he gave up five runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings.

"Tough night," Peavy said. "The Royals are a scrappy bunch, and the ball just bounced their way tonight."

Mariners: Saunders continues power surge
• Outfielder Michael Saunders smacked his 14th home run of the season and fourth in his last four games in Wednesday's 3-1 win over the Indians. In his past six contests, Saunders has gone 9-for-23 with seven RBIs.

Saunders hadn't homered since July 24 before finding the seats on Sunday, then ripping a pair of two-run shots on Monday.

"He's a very talented young man," Wedge said following that performance. "He just keeps getting better. He had a tough stretch there prior to the last four or five days, but he handled it like a pro. Now you're seeing him go up there and do some damage for us. Like I've said, he's a complete player, and he continues to step up for us."

The 25-year-old Saunders started Wednesday slugging .353 at home but .455 on the road.

• Outfielder Franklin Gutierrez was at Safeco Field on Wednesday, with Triple-A Tacoma enjoying a day off. Gutierrez, rehabbing from a concussion, homered twice at Triple-A on Tuesday and is 5-for-14 in four games with Tacoma. Injuries have held him to 13 games for Seattle this season and none since June 28.

White Sox: De Aza's injury opens door for Danks
• Rookie outfielder Jordan Danks was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte on Aug. 12 after a two-month stint in the big leagues. He was recalled on Tuesday, however, when Chicago placed Alejandro De Aza on the 15-day disabled list with bruised left ribs.

Danks hit .265 with a .621 on-base plus slugging percentage, one home run and three RBIs in 51 plate appearances for the White Sox. Before being recalled, he had reached base in 30 straight games for the Knights, with whom he has produced a .942 OPS this season.

"It wasn't anything that I did that caused me to go down," Danks said. "It was just a numbers issue, so that was easy to leave here with that thought. It's just good to be back."

Danks pinch-ran in Wednesday's game, a 2-1 win over the Yankees.

• The Mariners are not traveling to the easiest place for finding road victories. The White Sox have won 18 of 23 and 28 of 41 at U.S. Cellular Field. They finished off a three-game home sweep on Wednesday.

Worth noting
• Vargas has not faced the White Sox this season. He started one game at U.S. Cellular Field last year, giving up three runs on seven hits in 7 1/3 innings. Current White Sox players have compiled a 1.124 OPS against him in 80 plate appearances.

• Peavy held the Mariners to two runs on three hits in 6 1/3 innings on June 1 at Chicago, taking a no-decision.

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