Two things happened yesterday that made me think the Mariners might be able to shed Kenji Johjima and his ridiculous contract before the season's out. One, the White Sox claimed Blue Jay outfielder Alex Rios off waivers. Rios, who's underperformed this year after signing a 7-year, $69 million contract last spring, is a ton of salary to take on whole hog. By comparison, Johjima's contract is a pittance. Secondly, Johjima started on consecutive nights for the first time in a coon's age, and also hit his first homer since May, which proved decisive in the M's 6-4 victory over the aforementioned ChiSox last night, with whom the M's are battling in the wild card race. Interestingly, considering Chicago started Ramon Castro and his .136 batting average at catcher last night, they might be one such team that's in the market to upgrade and take the pressure off A.J. Pierzynski's knees every third day or so.
With Johjima, Adrian Beltre, Michael Saunders, and Jack Wilson in the lineup -- replacing Rob Johnson, Jack Hallahan/Chris Woodward, Ryan Langerhans/Wladimir Balentien, and Ronny Cedeno, respectively -- the M's get an instant, monumental upgrade from worst in the majors to potentially dangerous. And the last two games (17 runs total), it's been downright lethal. A month ago, a mediocre start like Luke French delivered last night (5-1/3 IP, 4 runs, 6 walks) would have spelled the M's fate. But with the lineup's newfound pop and some sterling bullpen work from Sean White, Mark Lowe (suddenly a reliable setup man with closer's stuff), and David Aardsma (who has the best ERA among relievers in the American League), anything seems possible.One thing we'll say about French is that the "young Jarrod Washburn" comparisons are spot-on. He even works at the same frantic pace, completing the first half of last night's first inning in three short minutes. Granted, the wheels came off in the sixth, which he began by walking the first two hitters on eight straight balls -- but his meltdown was eclipsed by the dual flameouts of the green and yellow boats in the mid-game hydro race on the Jumbotron. Call me a Luddite, but I sure miss the days when the race was more straightforward, when a giant octopus didn't sink two boats near the finish line with its tentacles, allowing the red boat to win without a fight. But I guess hydroplane racing's a dying sport, and they've got to do what they've got to do to liven it up.