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Seattle Mariners in contention - for now

World Series odds (As of June 15):

Seattle Mariners: 11.00

Take a gander at the American League standings, and not much really seems out of place.

The Yankees and Red Sox are once again in one of those Boston-versus-New York battles for the AL East. The Cleveland Indians have a 4.5-game lead in an AL Central Division that has only one team sitting above the .500 mark.

And then we have the AL West.

This is where it gets interesting.

As of Friday morning, the Houston Astros led the division, thanks to an eight-game winning streak. That isn't too surprising. After all, they're the reigning World Series champs. But look right below the Astros in the standings and you have the Seattle Mariners. Having not made the playoffs since that 116-win season in 2001, the Mariners currently sit half a game back of the Astros for the division lead - in the middle of June.

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With 44 wins under their belt already (as of Friday), the Mariners' World Series outright odds have undergone a sizable shift over the last two months. On April 13, their odds to win it all were 35.00. Two days later, those odds fell to 50.00.

Fast forward to the middle of this week, and Seattle's World Series odds stood at 11.00. That doesn't make them the favourites - that title currently belongs to the Yankees, followed closely by the Astros and Red Sox - but it puts the Mariners among the top-six teams for the outright market. And they've managed to climb into the running in their division without Robinson Cano, who was suspended 80 games for a PED violation.

(In fact, the suspension had only a small impact on Seattle's outright odds, going from 24.00 on May 14 to 26.00 later in the day, and back to 24.00 five days after the suspension was announced.)

While it is exciting for Mariners fans to see their team in the playoff chase nearing the midway point of the season, one has to wonder if their current pace is sustainable.

Their starting pitching has had an impact on their success, with James Paxton of Ladner, B.C., leading the way, with 10 quality starts in 14 of his games started. He leads all Seattle starters with a 3.02 earned-run average and has 111 strikeouts. Of course, he also threw a no-hitter - against the Blue Jays in Toronto, no less.

(Paxton's odds to win the AL Cy Young sit at 24.00, although the frontrunner, Justin Verlander, is enjoying a sensational season so far in Houston.)

The Mariners have also been able to win 21 one-run games so far this season. An amazing statistic and something that has likely caused some anxious moments among bettors, though Seattle was on the wrong end of a one-run game Thursday night as they opened a home series against the Red Sox with a 2-1 loss.

As the season continues, those close ball games that the Mariners had been fortunate enough to win on their rise up the standings may turn the other direction in favour of their opposition.

Their schedule could also influence where the Mariners stand among baseball's best teams at the end of the month. They're in the midst of a four-game series with the Red Sox, with the second game going Friday in Seattle and the aforementioned lefty Paxton (6-1) slated to start for the Mariners.

The Mariners get a day off next Monday before flying east to face the Yankees for three games, followed by another three-game set with the Red Sox. Look further ahead to August, and the Mariners face the Astros eight times, the National League West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks three times and the L.A. Dodgers (2nd in the NL West) three times.

Will the Mariners be cozying up to the World Series favourites when the stretch drive hits in September? It's likely been an enjoyable few months for Mariners fans, as they sit in a divisional race right now. But the road ahead is certainly full of challenges.

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