The annual west coast road trip grinds on. After taking two in Oakland, the Orioles dropped a series in Anaheim, against one of the teams they're chasing for the Wild Card -- not exactly how you want to roll at this point in the season. With that series over, the Orioles will close out their west coast tour by shipping up to Seattle, and after Tuesday we can all bid a not-so-fond farewell to 10pm start times.
The boys in orange kick off this series five games back in the East, and three out of the Wild Card. With 52 games to play, of course, nothing is "must" just yet, but it sure feels like the team needs to take two right now -- and a sweep would be a lot better, of course. Let's take a look at what Seattle will roll out against the Orioles.
Monday, 10pm: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Vidal Nuno
The Mariners will trot out Vidal Nuno to open the series. Nuno, who the Orioles know from his time with the Yankees in 2013-14, had been consigned to bullpen duty until he was pressed into his first start of the season last week. He was allowed to throw only 62 pitches, lasting 3 2/3 innings and giving up 3 ER. Nuno, in his career, has thrown 9 2/3 innings against the Orioles in three appearances (one start), to the tune of an 11.17 ERA. This all sounds like the game automatically favors the Orioles, particularly with the steady hand of Chen on the mound. It's certainly one that they should be ashamed if they lose.
As a side note, Nuno has somehow appeared in 19 games without recording a win or loss, which I find fascinating. In seven starts against the Mariners, Chen has thrown more or less to his career line, with a 3.33 ERA but only a 2-3 record.
Tuesday, 10pm: Chris Tillman vs. Taijuan Walker
The Mariners will throw 22-year-old Taijuan Walker in the second game of the series. The M's have let Walker work through some troubles at the big league level, and after a brutal first two months, he's started to right the ship a bit. He rattled off seven straight quality starts through June, and after a few shaky starts in mid-July, is currently on another streak of three straight quality starts. The Orioles faced Walker for the first time during his poor month of May, chasing him for 4 ER in 3 2/3 innings. Which Walker will show up, or probably more importantly, which Orioles offense will show up against him?
Tillman, of course, was finally getting on a roll before he turned his ankle at the end of a sparkling near-shutout against Atlanta on July 29th. He hasn't allowed more than two earned runs since June 21st. And the Orioles are probably happy to get him back against Seattle. The team traded Tillman as part of a package for Erik Bedard, and Tillman seems to eat his Wheaties before he faces them. He's 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA against the team that drafted him. Birdland sends its continued gratitude to Bill Bavasi.
Wednesday, 3:40pm, Kevin Gausman vs. TBD
The Orioles finally appear to be allowing Gausman to work as a starter on a consistent basis, which is a nice change. He continues to produce some up-and-down results as a starter, but shuttling him around to relief work and/or AAA isn't going to help him figure out major league starting. Gausman had put together two good starts against Detroit and Atlanta before struggling during the Anaheim series; getting back on track against Seattle will be important for him. He's only seen the Mariners once, holding them to one run in 6 2/3 innings during a start last year.
The Mariners haven't announced Wednesday's starter, but it should be Hisashi Iwakuma's turn in the rotation. The normally steady Iwakuma has battled injury this year, pitching to a 4.41 ERA in just 63 innings. He's been a little better lately, dominating the Twins two starts ago, and beating the Rangers (allowing three earned runs) last week. He'd be the toughest draw of the series for the Orioles, if he ends up starting.
The Bottom Line
The Orioles should win at least two out of three games in this series. They also need to win at least two. The Mariners are nine games below .500, and haven't been particularly unlucky in getting there. The Orioles don't have to face Felix Hernandez, and they get to face a guy who's just being flipped back to starting after working short relief all year. If they can take two, they get to leave the west coast with a winning record on the road trip, which would be a good consolation prize even though they dropped the most important individual series. If they lose two or more, it will be embarrassing, and we can probably expect to hear a lot of not-unwarranted talk of whether the team is really contending for a playoff spot.