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Orioles-Mariners series preview: The underachieving M’s visit Camden Yards

The Mariners were supposed to be a team on the rise this season, but so far they’re languishing with the Orioles among the AL’s also-rans.

MLB: Houston Astros at Seattle Mariners
Julio Rodriguez sat atop the MLB prospects rankings with Adley Rutschman. Now they’ll square off.
Lindsey Wasson-USA TODAY Sports

Two bad teams will square off at Camden Yards for the next three games. Yet despite their nearly identical records, the general feeling around the two clubs is starkly different.

For the 21-29 Orioles, hope is on the rise. The arrival of top prospect Adley Rutschman, and the soon-to-come promotions of Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall, have fans optimistic that the team will reach its window of contention sooner rather than later.

For the 20-28 Seattle Mariners, however, it’s a frustrating time. The M’s, who currently hold the longest postseason drought in all of professional sports at 21 years — a fact I’m sure their fans love being constantly reminded of — thought this season might finally bring the end to the streak. The upstart club was in playoff contention until the last day of the season in 2021, and trade-crazed team president Jerry Dipoto made a flurry of offseason moves to upgrade their roster, most notably by signing reigning AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and acquiring veterans Adam Frazier, Jesse Winker, and Eugenio Suarez to bolster the lineup. And with a great young core of talented youngsters like Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic, and Logan Gilbert in hand, the Mariners were expected to contend at least for a wild card spot if not challenge the division behemoth Astros.

They still could. But they’re trending in the wrong direction. After starting the season 11-6, the Mariners have gone 9-22 and are jousting with the Athletics in the AL West cellar. During that stretch, their pitchers have posted a 4.77 ERA and surrendered 41 home runs in 31 games. The O’s offense has a chance to take advantage of a struggling pitching staff, and even more favorably, in this series they’ll miss the Mariners’ two best starting pitchers by ERA — Gilbert (2.29) and Marco Gonzales (3.55).

The M’s offense has been a mixed bag. Their stalwarts include first baseman Ty France, who is crushing the ball to the tune of a .342 average, .919 OPS, seven homers, and 35 RBIs. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is batting .306/.399/.450, and Suarez has slugged nine roundtrippers. But Winker carries a disappointing .598 OPS, and the highly touted Kelenic hit so poorly — .140/.219/.291 in 30 games — that he was demoted to Triple-A.

This series will, at least, mark the first of many showdowns between Rutschman and Rodriguez, who were two of the top three prospects in baseball entering the season. Rutschman, now nine games into his MLB career, has yet to get it going offensively, batting .200 with a .586 OPS and no RBIs. Orioles fans can only hope he’ll follow the same pattern as Rodriguez, who cracked the Mariners’ Opening Day roster and was ice cold out of the gate — batting .136/.208/.159 with no home runs through his first 12 games — before adjusting to major league pitching. Rodriguez has posted a .313/.357/.508 line in 35 games since, with six homers and 20 RBIs. The 21-year-old outfielder boasts gargantuan power potential and a keen batting eye and is pegged as a potential future superstar.

Game 1: Tuesday, 7:05 PM, MASN 2

RHP George Kirby (0-1, 4.50) vs. TBD

Kirby, the Mariners’ #2 prospect per MLB Pipeline, skipped Triple-A entirely and was promoted to the bigs straight from Double-A Arkansas. He stormed out of the gate with a sensational major league debut May 8, dominating the Rays with seven strikeouts and no walks over six scoreless innings. Since then, it’s been a rocky road, with a 6.43 ERA in his three subsequent outings. The 24-year-old flamethrower can hit 100 mph on his heater but has coughed up three homers in his last two starts. Kirby, like Rutschman, was a 2019 first round draft pick.

The O’s, as of this writing, have yet to announce a starter for their opening game.

Game 2: Wednesday, 7:05 PM, MASN

LHP Robbie Ray (4-5, 4.75) vs. RHP Kyle Bradish (1-3, 7.31)

You remember Robbie Ray, don’t you? Most baseball fans know him as the winner of last year’s AL Cy Young award, or as the guy who infamously wears extremely tight pants. But the Orioles know him as the grump who got into an on-field argument with manager Brandon Hyde during a game last September, apparently accusing the O’s of stealing signs during a rough outing in Baltimore. This will be his first start against the Orioles since then.

The Mariners swooped in this past offseason with a five-year, $115 million contract to steal Ray away from the Blue Jays. So far their investment is looking like a poor one. Ray has regressed noticeably, with a 4.75 ERA that’s nearly two runs higher than during his great 2021 season (2.84). He does lead the league in innings pitched (60.2), but also in earned runs (32). His walk rate, which ruined his pre-Toronto career with the Diamondbacks, is ticking up, though he’s still averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. Four current Orioles have homered against Ray in their careers, including two by Cedric Mullins.

Meanwhile, if you were one of the O’s fans hoping that Wednesday would bring the MLB debut of Grayson Rodriguez — who would be on his usual four days’ rest after his dominant outing for Triple-A Norfolk last Friday — you’ll have to make do with another talented if not as high-ceiling youngster in Bradish. The 25-year-old is coming off his worst outing of his brief big league career, a 1.2-inning, six-run nightmare in Boston last weekend. After his superb start in St. Louis on May 10, Bradish has allowed four, then five, then six runs in his three outings since. Not a great trend.

Game 3: Thursday, 7:05 PM, MASN 2

RHP Chris Flexen (2-6, 4.47) vs. RHP Jordan Lyles (3-4, 4.26)

The 27-year-old Flexen was a former Mets prospect who flamed out in the bigs, then revived his career with the Doosan Bears of the Korea Baseball Organization in 2020, posting a 3.01 ERA in 21 starts that year. The Mariners took a chance that his overseas renaissance would translate back to the majors, inking him to a two-year deal to return to the States, and they were right. Flexen quietly posted a strong season in 2021, going 14-6 with a 3.61 ERA in 31 starts, though 2022 hasn’t been quite as kind so far. Still, he’s coming off one of his best starts of the year, a seven-inning, one-run gem against Houston. Only two current Orioles have ever faced him, but one — Rougned Odor — tagged him for a homer.

Lyles has been a surprisingly steady performer for the Orioles, keeping the club in the game nearly every time he pitches, despite allowing an MLB-worst 64 hits. He allowed nine of those in his most recent outing against the Red Sox, in which he failed to work five innings for just the second time this season. Having spent the previous two years with Texas in the AL West, Lyles has seen the Mariners plenty of times, and has a 5.87 career ERA in 11 games against them. He’s had modest success against Crawford (3-for-15) and France (3-for-14), but has coughed up two homers to former AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, who returned from the injured list last week.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Mariners?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    3 (Orioles sweep)
    (42 votes)
  • 56%
    2
    (142 votes)
  • 18%
    1
    (48 votes)
  • 8%
    0 (Orioles get swept)
    (21 votes)
253 votes total Vote Now