The Orioles have gone and made things interesting again. After an unlikely weekend sweep of the Red Sox, the O's have pulled themselves back up to .500 and within a much better striking distance of the second wild card spot in the American League. They're now two games back of the Twins, with three teams to pass in total.
As luck would have it for the Orioles, one of the three teams that they need to pass is the Mariners, who they will begin playing for three games starting on Monday night.
The stakes are simple. Win the series against the Mariners and the O's will be ahead of another team in the chase - and depending on how the Twins do, possibly even closer to the top than they are now. That is a tantalizing opportunity for a team that hasn't been above .500 since June 11.
Of course, if the Orioles don't win at least two games against the Mariners, then instead of gaining ground, they will lose it and leave themselves looking farther up the standings with just 29 games to play. It is a double-edged sword for them.
Although they've gotten where they are now in different ways, the Mariners and O's have a lot in common at this point in time. They're both 6-4 over their last ten games, though the O's enter the series winners of four in a row, while Seattle has dropped their last two. The teams have identical run differentials of -23, which should leave them far out of contention, but that's actually better than the Twins, who are at -28.
The Mariners are also similar to the Orioles in that their starting rotation has been a big problem, while the bullpen has been a relative strength. Most of the Mariners hitters are hovering around league average, so while former Oriole Nelson Cruz is the only standout, there's not much dead weight, either.
It all adds up to the most important series for the Orioles yet - at least until the next one comes along.
Game 1 - Monday, 7:05
Starters: Marco Gonzales (0-1, 6.23 ERA as Mariner) vs. Chris Tillman (1-7, 7.75 ERA)
If you think the Orioles have had something of a chaotic starting rotation this year, you're not wrong. They've used nine different starting pitchers. The Mariners, however, have had to deploy 16 different starters.
Gonzales, a lefty recently acquired from the Cardinals, is one of the newer ones. He'll be making just his fifth Mariners start and sixth MLB start this season overall. That is a new career high for Gonzales, who has served up four home runs in 17.1 innings and has been giving up hits like they're going out of style.
Although from past years, we're all used to the Orioles being horrible against lefties, it's a different story this year. They have a 22-19 record in games started by lefties, with an overall .757 OPS against southpaws, which is actually fourth-best in the AL.
On the other side of this game is Chris Tillman, who has pitched at least six innings in just three of his 18 starts and hasn't had a good start in nearly a month and a half. Nothing about the way that Tillman has pitched in 2017 gives any confidence that this will be the game where the Orioles finally climb back over .500 again.
Game 2 - Tuesday, 7:05
Starters: Erasmo Ramirez (1-1, 3.76 ERA) vs. Dylan Bundy (12-8, 4.18 ERA)
The price of getting an extra day of rest for Bundy appears to be Tillman pitching in that Monday game. Bundy has been fantastic in four August starts, three of which were on extra rest, pitching to a 2.67 ERA over 27 innings. That includes two games where Bundy picked up double-digit strikeouts. So let's hope this is another good one.
Ramirez, as a guy who is somewhat homer-prone and doesn't get a ton of strikeouts, should be right up the alley of the O's hitters. I say should because in two relief outings earlier this year, when Ramirez was still with the Rays, he blanked the O's over a combined seven innings. He's now working on a string of three straight quality starts for Seattle and will, like Bundy, be working with an extra day of rest.
Game 3, Wednesday, 3:05
Starters: Ariel Miranda (8-6, 4.62 ERA) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (5-9, 6.57 ERA)
There is a vocal contingent of Orioles fans who both really lament the fact that Miranda was traded to Seattle and haven't noticed his 5.77 ERA away from Safeco Field. There is no pitcher in MLB who's given up more homers than Miranda's 31. I don't even want to think about him regularly pitching in Camden Yards.
This doesn't mean that Miranda is guaranteed to be awful on Wednesday afternoon. The fact that any pitcher, no matter how scrubby, is capable of dominating the Orioles offense for a day is well-documented, and it would be just like them to somehow lose without hitting a home run against the ultra-homer-prone Miranda.
On the other hand, Miranda could pitch poorly and still manage to pitch better than Jimenez, who remains the true enigman of the Orioles rotation. He hasn't had a truly good start since July 31, which both means he's on a bad streak and is probably due to surprise us by having a good game. Overall, though, Jimenez has been bad night and day, home and road, first half, second half, and every month of the season.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Mariners?
This poll is closed
0 (The Orioles get swept)
3 (The Orioles sweep)