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OAK@SEA: Iwakuma fans eight over 8 2/3 innings

The Mariners hope the All-Star break can cool the red-hot Angels.

Since June 6, the Angels are a Major League-best 26-9 and have matched their franchise record for wins before the All-Star break with 57. With a four-game sweep at Texas to enter the break, the Angels are just 1 1/2 games behind Oakland in the American League West.

"When you're looking at the last 50 games, we're playing at the level we need to play," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "It's the challenge of the season. The last 20 games have been a tremendous run. Hopefully, they're poised well for holding up in a pennant race. Right now, we want to make sure guys stay fresh and healthy and continue to perform."

The Angels have two regular contributors on the disabled list, with left-hander C.J. Wilson nursing an ankle injury and Collin Cowgill recovering from thumb and facial fractures.

When they return from the break, the Angels -- with the best home record (32-15) in the Majors -- will open a 10-game homestand that begins vs. Seattle. Right-hander Jered Weaver will take the hill to open the three-game set.

"There were some high expectations the last couple years," Weaver said. "Anytime you bring in big-name guys like we have, you're going to have that. There's a level of talent and a confidence that we're going to come back. We're playing good baseball. I wish this break didn't come, to tell you the truth."

Weaver threw seven innings of two-run ball on Saturday against Texas, just one start after a back injury forced him to leave early. He has faced the Mariners twice this season, holding a 1-1 record and a 4.38 ERA in 12 1/3 innings.

Weaver will face off against the Mariners' Hisashi Iwakuma on Friday night.

In 14 starts this season, Iwakuma -- a 2013 All-Star -- is 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA. He just missed his first Major League complete game and shutout when he gave up a two-run homer to Brandon Moss with two out in the ninth in his last outing, a 6-2 victory over the A's on Saturday.

"I thought Iwakuma was as sharp as he's been all year," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said after the right-hander beat the division-leading A's.

The 33-year-old from Japan is 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA over his last three starts, with 25 strikeouts and no walks. He's walked just eight batters in his 14 starts this season after missing the first month of the season with a torn tendon in his right middle finger.

Iwakuma said he feels at full strength now, after also dealing with a sore neck for several starts in late June.

"I feel great right now," Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "I feel like the momentum is there. I feel like I can start off the second half the same way. You go through your dead-arm period and now I feel better. Hopefully I can keep this going."

Iwakuma has yet to face the Angels this season, but is 5-0 with a 1.49 ERA in seven games (six starts) over the previous two years.

Mariners: McClendon likes his chances
The Mariners hit the All-Star break with a record that currently puts them in position as the second AL Wild Card team behind the Angels. And McClendon said his surprising group has a legitimate chance to compete for a postseason berth down the stretch.

"I think if we continue to pitch the way we're pitching and if we stay healthy from an offensive standpoint, we've got as good a shot as anybody else," McClendon said. "Do we have challenges? Absolutely. We have challenges. We all know that. But I know this: When you can shut down other teams, it makes those challenges a little easier to climb. And so far, our pitching has been shutdown-type of pitching. So we'll see."

The Mariners haven't been in the postseason since 2001 when they won the AL West with a 116-46 record.

Angels: Closer Smith hitting stride
In July, Joe Smith has been nearly untouchable.

He is 1-0 with eight saves and has retired 26 of the 27 batters he's faced. Smith also has not given up a hit in his last 10 appearances. He became the first Angels pitcher since Troy Percival to go at least nine straight hitless appearances of at least an inning.

"It's been an awesome feeling to see guys have confidence in us," Smith said. "I'm pitching the same way [as a closer] as before, filling up the zone. Getting ahead of guys makes it so much better."

In the last 17 games, the Angels' bullpen has a 1.72 ERA.

Worth noting
• Mariners All-Star Felix Hernandez will start the second game of the series on Saturday, with veteran right-hander Chris Young slated for Sunday's series finale.

• Seattle's trip to Anaheim will be its first since opening the season with a three-game sweep at Angel Stadium, winning the three games by a combined score of 26-8.

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