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Orioles vs. Mariners: Series Preview

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Nelson Cruz returns with the Mariners for a three games series in the second straight AL West matchup for the O's...will this one be any better?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far:

First, the standings: The Orioles are 16-19, four games behind the Yankees. So, thanks to the Yankees losing five of their last six, the Orioles actually moved half a game up in the standings, even though they lost two of three to the Angels. I'll take it. But that Angels series was weird. For one, that was the first time all season O's starters have all gone at least 7IP in a series. You'd think that would be a formula for success, but in the two losses, they couldn't get a single hit with a runner in scoring position. On Saturday they didn't even get anyone into scoring position for the third time this year (they lost all three).

It certainly seems like at times this year, certain parts of the team have come together while others have struggled. If you break the game down into pitching, offense, and defense at times one or even two of those parts have worked while the other struggled so mightily it resulted in a loss. I decided to break those components down into some very simple metrics that have nothing to do with how many runs were scored or allowed, because we all know scoring five runs is useless when you give up six and allowing one run is useless when you score zero.

Overall, the O's winning percentage is .457. In games where the starter has gone at least six innings, that goes up to .631. Have a starter go six innings AND get a hit with a runner in scoring position? That goes to .750. And if you combine those first two with the defense committing no more than one error? That combination has happened 13 times this season and they've won 11 of those games for a winning percentage of .846. The O's were only able to accomplish all three of those (fairly low bars to be honest) once against the Angels...on Sunday when they won. Admittedly, this is a fairly inconsequential analysis - but I think it does suggest that maybe winning isn't about dominating in all areas, it's just about doing enough in every area so that when you do get a dominate performance from your offense or your pitching, its enough to put you over the top.

Seattle is in a pretty similar situation to Baltimore. They're 17-20, in third place in their division and 7.5 games behind the Astros. Despite Nelson Cruz and his MLB leading 15 home runs, they rank second to last in the AL in runs per game at 3.78. It's definitely a feast or famine offense... they have three guys with an OPS+ above 110 and four guys with an OPS+ below 90, with a couple guys in the middle. One of their non-performers is Austin Jackson, who's currently on the DL. Even though Jackson hasn't been great, his replacements have been worse. These guys had hopes of winning a division title this year, but so far don't even look like they could contend for a wild card - so naturally, I'm worried about them coming to Baltimore.

Pitching Matchups:

Note: As we found out over the weekend - this section is subject to change

Tuesday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Taijuan Walker

After a dominating start against the Blue Jays last week, Gonzalez is now one of three Orioles pitchers in the rotation  with an ERA under 3.00. The guy has just been good, with only two bad starts on the season out of the seven he's made. I looked through his career splits, to see if there's any kind of weakness we should worry about, but there's isn't. Lefties/Righties, Home/Away, Day/Night - he's very consistent dealing with all of them. One slightly off-normal thing about this start is that because of the team's days off the past week, he'll be pitching with five days of rest instead of the normal four but he seems to do better in that situation anyway. Ironically, the injured Austin Jackson seems to be the would-be matchup that's given him the most trouble, but without him that honor falls to Nelson Cruz who's 2 for 8.

Taijuan Walker has been a different story. In seven starts, he's 1-4 with a 7.22 ERA. He's only gone six innings or more in two of those starts and has only had one good start this year at Texas. The guy is young and does have a slight platoon problem with left-handed batters. This will be his first career start against the Orioles.

Wednesday: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Roenis Elias

Elias is a little older than Walker, but has about as much experience. He's pitched better though and is 0-1 through four starts with a 3.24 ERA. He has yet to get through a start without giving up an earned run though, and has a very high home run to fly ball ratio of 13.3% on the year. He's also a lefty and has given up 17 of his 20 career home runs to right-handed batters - so expect to see Steve Pearce, Delmon Young and Paredes hitting from the right side. He also faced Chen in his lone start in Camden Yards, which came last year. He pitched well in that game, but the Orioles still won the game 2-1. Manny Machado is 3 for 5 against him including a double.

Wei-Yin Chen is another one of the Orioles rotation who's got an ERA below 3.00 (2.53). He took the loss in his last start against the Angels, but he pitched well. Chen's only bad start on the year came all the way back in the opening series at Tampa Bay. Robinson Cano is 7 for 28 against him, but that includes two doubles and a home run. Obviously like Elias, Chen is also a lefty but the Mariners feature a lot of left-handed batters in their lineup and Chen pitches well against them.

Thursday: Chris Tillman vs. J.A. Happ

Tillman missed his last start with back pain...reports were that's been an on and off issue for him for a while. Maybe that explains his slow start to the season? His ERA is back up to 6.34 after the five runs he gave up to the Blue Jays. To me, Tillman's only good start this year came on Opening Day. I think it's fair to say he's been the most disappointing player on the team this season. But, he does own a 6-0 record with a 2.03 ERA against the Mariners. Looking at some stats, Tillman has pitched better against the Mariners than any other team. Maybe he likes pitching against the team that traded him away? Those guys still have to be kicking themselves for that trade, even after all these years.

The Orioles should know J.A. Happ pretty well after spending the previous few season with the Blue Jays. So far, he seems to be having a career year with the Mariners, going 3-1 with a 2.98 ERA (which would be his lowest ever). His strikeouts per nine innings are down a little, but he's giving up less walks as well, which has driven up his strikeout to walk ratio. But the Orioles have seen him a lot. Adam Jones is 7 for 23 including a home run. Steve Pearce is 6 for 18 including two homers. But in three starts in Camden Yards, he's got a 2.50 ERA and 17 strikeouts...so this may not go well.

Other Notes:

- Even though Happ is doing well, the Orioles will miss the Mariners best pitcher (and one of the best in all of baseball), Felix Hernandez.

- How can we not discuss Nelson Cruz's return to Baltimore? For a guy that was only here one season he certainly made quite the impression. He did very well with the O's last season on his one year "show me" deal, and both sides got what they wanted out of it. Even though he's doing great so far this year, let's not forget he did the same to start 2014, only to slow down for a while in the summer before picking it back up again slightly to end the season. But still, April and May were his best months. Wait until the season's over before totally regretting him leaving. Or better, wait until the end of that four year contract.

- Streak watch: Jimmy Paredes' hit streak may have ended Friday vs. the Angels, but since he got a walk in that game and a hit in the two other games, his "safely reaching base" streak is now 15 games (If only he could play the field....) Manny Machado had a similar streak end at 20 in that Angels series.

Prediction:

Wow - really starting to regret ever starting this section. I've been pretty bad picking these games, but then again the Orioles have played pretty bad baseball. Based on the pitching matchups and the fact the Mariners are missing their starting center fielder, I'm tempted to say they'll win two of three. But I don't have a lot of confidence this team can really do that. Currently, the O's are in a stretch where they're playing 17 of 20 games at home. So far, they've played six of those and are 3-3. Remember last year when they were barely in front of the division after the All-Star Break and they went to the west coast for ten games, they went 6-4, beating our expectations and it seemed like that told us who that team was?

With 17 of 20 games at home, what record would a playoff team get in that stretch? 14-6? 15-5? Lets' say 14-6...to get there the Orioles need win 11 of these next 14. Can they do it? Yes. Will they? I obviously have my doubts. So I'm going to cop out here and not make a prediction for this series, but turn this into a prediction on the season. If they can't find a way to win even 9 or 10 of these next 14 and turn their season around now, I'm not sure how they can do it going forward.