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Orioles-Mariners series preview: The Cano/Cruz show comes to town

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Next up for the Orioles are the Mariners, who are surprisingly in contention at the top of the AL West.

Team Steve will never die. This stalwart force that protected the 2012 and 2014 Orioles playoff teams from the fringes was dismantled in Baltimore following the 2015 season. It has reorganized in Seattle, where Steves Johnson and Clevenger find themselves with the Mariners for the 2016 campaign. They are joined by closer Steve Cishek to form Team Steve West.

Not that any of those guys are really the big reasons for Seattle's success so far in 2016. The Mariners, currently riding a three game losing streak, are a mere half game behind the punchy Texas Rangers for the AL West lead. The Mariners are one of the surprising teams in the league so far this year. They weren't expected to be bad, as the Orioles were in some quarters, but they weren't believed to be contenders either.

That's all changed by now. Led by a resurgent Robinson Cano, the Mariners have played their way to the top. Cano, who posted "only" a .779 OPS last season, is currently sitting at a .912 OPS, and he's also tied for the AL lead in home runs with 12. Former Oriole Nelson Cruz is also having himself a good season, with an .840 OPS so far, capped by seven home runs.

Add in Felix Hernandez doing King Felix things - thankfully, the Orioles will not see him in this series - and it's proven to be a successful formula so far. Can they keep it up? That's always the question. So far this season, the Mariners have been road warriors, posting a 13-6 road record to date. They'll clash with the Orioles, who are good performers at home.

With a 3.59 ERA from their starters, the Mariners have the third-best starting pitcher ERA in the AL. The Orioles, with a 4.22 ERA, find themselves in the middle of the pack in seventh. Both teams have a good bullpen by ERA. The O's are tops in the AL with a 2.32 ERA - the Mariners, in fourth, aren't far behind with a 2.92 ERA from their relief corps.

Game 1: Tuesday, May 17, 7:05 Eastern

Ubaldo Jimenez (2-3, 4.87 ERA) vs. Wade Miley (3-2, 4.91 ERA)
MASN2

You look at a matchup like that and you probably think slugfest. For good reason, too, as Miley's road ERA in the 2016 season is even worse than his overall numbers. Maybe his biggest problem has been that nearly every walk he's issued has been issued on the road. Why would being away from Safeco make him less likely to throw strikes? You never know.

The whole Orioles team has combined for only 41 career plate appearances against Miley. Four of them have hit home runs in that time. Miley has allowed eight home runs in 44 innings so far this year. I'd say that counts as a good omen.

They'll need the run support. It's Ubaldo going out there, for crying out loud. Although Jimenez has lived up to his ground ball tendencies this year - a 54.4% GB rate so far - it hasn't helped him. Maybe that's because he's walking more than 10% of the batters he faces. Is a .369 BABIP bad luck, bad defense (unlikely, given the ground balls and the Orioles infield), or just bad pitching?

Look out for Cano, who's homered twice off Jimenez in 12 plate appearances.

Game 2: Wednesday, May 18, 7:05 Eastern

Chris Tillman (5-1, 2.58 ERA) vs. Taijuan Walker (2-2, 2.63 ERA)
MASN2

That's pretty much night and day as far as the quality of the starting pitchers from the first game. Prepare for the usual barrage of probably meaningless stories about Tillman going up against his former organization. But really, thanks for that trade, Mariners. Thanks even more to Tillman for turning the ship around in 2015. Dare we hope that he's got it all figured out again?

Walker is doing pretty much everything you could want from a young starting pitcher. He is striking out nearly a quarter of all of the batters that he faces, and he's only issued six walks in 37.2 innings of work. Oh, and just for good measure he's getting the ball on the ground 50% of the time. That's a recipe for success! The only problem is he's averaging a bit more than five innings per start. It's only his second full big league season - but he's only 23.

No surprise the guy was a top 10 prospect in all of MLB headed into both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The hype has been there for a while. Maybe this year he's starting to live up to it. Sound familiar? The Mariners were able to pick Walker with the draft selection they got as compensation for losing Adrian Beltre in free agency. That's not a bad consolation prize.

Game 3: Thursday, May 19, 12:35 Eastern

TBA, maybe Tyler Wilson (2-1, 2.93 ERA) vs. definitely Nate Karns (3-1, 3.51 ERA)
MASN2, MLB Network (only out of market)

Karns showing up in this last game is good news if only because it also means that the Orioles miss Hisashi Iwakuma, who no-hit them last year. Karns, acquired in a trade (along with the excellently-named Boog Powell) that sent Brad Miller and Logan Morrison to the Rays, is not exactly struggling this year, though.

A strength for Karns is he's picking up a lot of strikeouts: 43 in 41 innings. A problem for Karns is that he's issuing a lot of walks, 18 in those same innings. The right-handed Karns is performing better against lefty batters than righties so far this season - a .637 OPS allowed to lefties compared to a .755 to righties. Karns has actually faced lefty batters more than righties. That's not usual.

If the Orioles make Karns work and throw strikes, they'll be in good shape. If not, well, I don't know. This is a getaway day game - the O's travel out to Anaheim for a Friday game. You never know what's going to happen in a getaway day game. That's especially true when we're still not even sure who's starting the game for the O's.

**

While the Orioles are playing the contending Mariners, the Red Sox will be off playing the not-contending Royals. Keep up the pace and keep winning, O's!

How do you think this series will play out? Are you confident that the O's can come away with a series win?