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A’s have nothing but respect for new-look Mariners

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners' team that is the best it's been in a decade.

Felix Hernandez leads a Mariners’ team that is the best it’s been in a decade.

Once the A’s prime competition in the American League West came from Southern California.

Now with the Angels having steamrolled the West while Oakland slumped, the A’s must look to the Pacific Northwest, where the Seattle Mariners would like nothing better than to knock the A’s out of the Wild Card race.

The A’s and Mariners play three games this weekend in Safeco Field.

And while the Mariners haven’t seen the post-season since the world was young, the A’s are facing a team that could either join them in the Wild Card game or knock Oakland out of it.

    “They’ve always had a lot of pitching,’’ right fielder Josh Reddick said. “But a lot of persons, including myself, didn’t think the addition of (second baseman) Robinson Cano would have the kind of impact it has.

“But you look at (third baseman Kyle) Seager, he’s having another great year. The addition of (DH) Corey Hart has been big. And (left fielder) Dustin Ackley has started to figure it out. They’ve found a way to fix that lineup.’’

The A’s will only see the first half of Seattle’s 1-2 rotation punch of Felix Hernandez (14-5, 2.12) and Hisashi Iwakuma (14-7, 3.11) with King Felix throwing Saturday. But unlike in past years, the Mariners other starters are genuine threats. James Paxton (5-2, 1.87) goes Friday and Chris Young (12-7, 3.35) throws Sunday.

“It’s really impressive what they’ve done,’’ A’s closer Sean Doolittle said. “Everyone had known about Felix and Iwakuma, but their rotation has really gotten deep. Chris Young has been a big addition, and Paxton is very impressive.

“They’ve turned into a really complete team.’’

The A’s still have a leg up on the Wild Card berth, but the Tigers (or Royals) in the Central and the Mariners are breathing down Oakland’s neck. A big series in Seattle this weekend would go a long way to locking down the A’s Wild Card berth.

“There were a lot of people who wrote off Seattle early,’’ A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie said. “They weren’t thought of as a playoff team. But their pitching has stepped up and the addition of Cano has turned them into a team that is much more of a challenge than it was last year.’’

The A’s challenge this weekend will be climb out of its funk against a team that is playing with a passion it hasn’t shown in a decade.

“It’s going to be a test,’’ Doolittle said.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.