Mariners vs. Orioles Series Preview

The O’s really need to get something going here. They’re on a 4-game losing streak and I really don’t want to see it go any longer because it brings back memories of the 8-game skid earlier in the season and I definitely don’t want that to happen again. Our boys have quickly regained the last place in the AL East with their 14-19 record sitting 5.5 games back. Luckily, that’s not too bad of a hill to climb (Minnesota and the White Sox are 10 and 9.5 games back in the AL Central respectively, the Mets are 8.5 GB in the NL East, the Nationals are 7 GB in the NL East…you get the drift). But, that hill is mounting as the O’s keep on losing. A series win this week would be great, especially with the Yankees series coming up. However, the Mariners starting pitchers are very, very good. The O’s really need to step it up in this series to prove that they’re still alive.

Baltimore Orioles

2011 Regular Season Record: 14-19 (4th in AL East, 5.5 GB)
128 Runs Scored/156 Runs Allowed

125 Runs Scored/131 Runs Allowed

Tuesday May 10: RHP Michael Pineda (4-2, 2.58 ERA) vs. RHP Jake Arrieta (4-1, 4.35 ERA)
Pineda had a rougher start than what he had in the past last week against the Rangers. No big deal. It’s going to happen and even more so against a team that has seen him once before hand. They were smart and stacked a few lefties together. The question is going to be how he’ll do against an Orioles line-up that has quiet a few lefties too. The change-up is progressing and has proven to be a good pitch so far. But he’s only thrown it 7% of the time. It’s the real key to his success this week against the O’s.
Arrieta is coming off an outstanding outing against KC, probably his best showing of the season where he went 7 innings giving up only 3 hits and 1 run as well as fanning 8. He wasn’t expected to be great this season, just a decent young starter in the O’s rotation. However, he has really emerged as the second best pitcher behind Zach Britton. He has been the most consistent (behind Britton) and has given up only 5 HRs. The only Mariner he has faced in his short career is Jack Cust, who went 1 for 3 against him with 1 RBI.

Wednesday May 11: RHP Felix Hernandez (4-2, 3.02 ERA) vs. RHP Chris Tillman (1-3, 7.16 ERA)
It’s good to be king. Anyone that says that Felix isn’t being “Felix” is just plain unaware. Besides his Swinging Strike rate drop he has been pound for pound every bit of pitcher he has been in the past and really he’s been even better this year. This year he has posted an ERA 3.02, FIP 2.61, xFIP 2.89 opposed to last year he posted ERA 2.27, FIP 3.04, xFIP 3.14. He’s very awesome and he’s ours.
Tillman has really been disappointing this season. He either comes to the mound and throws a great game (6 no-hit innings against Tampa Bay in the beginning of the season) or throws a terrible game (not even getting through 2 innings against the Yankees). His last start was a bad one, in which he only went 3 2/3 innings giving up 10 hits and 8 runs to the team he previously threw 6 no-hit innings, the Rays. He’s only faced 3 Mariners (Figgins, Olivo, and Gimenez) who are a combined 1 for 6 against Tillman (a homerun by Olivio).

Thursday May 12: LHP Jason Vargas (2-2, 4.68 ERA) vs. LHP Zach Britton (5-2, 2.93 ERA)
Vargas has been a different pitcher this year than he was last year. Not bad or worse. Just different. Maybe even a little bit better. The cut fastball that he has added to his arsenal has given him a lot more ground balls than in previous years and this is an important thing going into a place like Camden Yard. Where keeping the ball on the ground is vital as the ball tends to fly out of the park here.
His ERA is high this year but it’s partly due to just pure dumb luck. He isn’t giving up any more home runs than before and his line drive percentage is down. Just runners that are getting on base are scoring. It happens. I see Vargas having a good stretch run through May.
Britton has been the most surprising member of the O’s starting rotation. He was supposed to remain in the minors for this season but was called up due to an injury to the ace Brian Matusz. He looks to be a promising ace for the O’s in a few years and to be decent for many years to come. His last game against the Rays he recorded a loss going 5 1/3 innings giving up 4 hits and 3 runs. This is a pretty decent start, but the O’s offense is nonexistent so even giving up 3 runs will result in a loss. He was taken out early though because he developed a callous on his middle finger of his pitching hand. He should be back in his true form for this game.

WHO’S HOT
Baltimore Orioles:

Nick Markakis: He had a very slow start to the season but is finally getting back to where he is supposed to be. He’s gone 10 for 30 in the last 7 days (.333) with a double, a homer, and 7 RBIs.
Michael Gonzalez:As the only lefty in the bullpen, he has a very important role to fill. However, until recently, every time he went to relieve a pitcher, he gave up at least one run to the opposing team for some ridiculously long streak. Recently, he’s been lights out. In his last 5 outings (5 1/3 innings pitched) he has given up no runs, no walks, 3 hits, and 7 strikeouts. He has really been clutch for the O’s.

Seattle Mariners:
Justin Smoak: 8-22, 3-2Bs, 1 HR, 2BB and 4 RBIs
Chone Figgins: 4-13, 2Rs, 2BBs, 3 SBs and 1 2B
Brendan Ryan: 6-20, 2 RBIs, 2-2Bs
Brandon League: 3.1 IP, 0 BB/ 6Ks, 2 SVs (and of course one loss)

WHO’S COLD
Baltimore Orioles:

Matt Wieters: He’s tied on the team with the most RBIs with 19 (ironically tied with Brian Roberts who is also ice cold) and he is amazing with RISP, he gets a hit almost every time. He’s gone 1 for 18 (.056) in the last 7 days with 1 RBI. Luckily, Sunday he went 2 for 4 with 2 RBIs to get out of his slump a little.

Seattle Mariners:
Jack Cust: 3-16, 3 BBs, 1-2B, 1 RBI
Michael Saunders: 0 – 19, 1 BB
Miguel Olivo: 3 – 17, 1-2B, 1-BB (yeah … he really managed a whole walk)
Tom Wilhelmsen: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 0 Ks

INJURY UPDATES
Baltimore Orioles:

P Brian Matusz: the ace has been out since the beginning of the season with an intercoastal strain. He is on the 15-day DL and expected back in the middle of May. He threw 2 innings on Saturday in a simulated game.
P Justin Duchcherer: He was placed on the 60-day DL due to lower back discomfort and is expected back sometime in May. He threw a BP session on April 30.
SS J.J. Hardy: on the 15-day DL with a strained left oblique. He is expected back in May and may be ready to go starting this Tuesday against the Mariners. He played as a DH in a Triple-A rehab game on Sunday.

3 on 3 Questions
Baltimore Orioles:

1. Adam Jones, is he ever going to take off?

Adam Jones is a very frustrating player to watch. His defensive skills in center field are amazing and he often saves runs and keeps balls in the park. However, at the plate is another story. Last season, I remember getting very angry every time he came to the plate because he was very undisciplined. He seemed to swing for the fences every time and miss almost every time because he swings at extremely low balls. He would do it every at-bat. This season, he definitely seems to be better at that, yet you still see that swing every now and then. He’s hit 5 homers on the season and has 16 RBIs. His average is starting to raise and is currently sitting at .250. I would really like him to be hitting closer to .300, however, but I do not think this will happen. He’s a .250-.270 hitter at best and won’t get much better than that.

2. I have a natural affection for Luke Scott. Do the Orioles see him as expendable? What, as a fan, would you want in return?

Luke Scott seems to be a fan favorite. He’s been the “homerun hitter” on the team (that’s not saying much though). Last season he hit 27 and this year he has 6 so far. He’s an interesting hitter though. He hits on streaks and he reminds me of Mark Reynolds. He strikes out a lot but can hit a good number of homers. If the O’s were to get rid of Scott, I’d definitely need a decent hitter to take his spot or a few good minor prospects. That’s probably what McPhail would do (get a few guys from the minors) in a Scott trade because he likes to raise the young guys in the farm system. I don’t see Luke Scott being an Oriole for much longer though (a few more seasons at the most) so we’ll see what happens.

3. Tell us a bit about Jake Arrieta. While his ERA isn’t all shiny his FIP/xFIP (4.05/3.80) is better than Zach Britton and Jeremy Guthrie. He seemingly came out of nowhere to me.

Arrieta has come out of nowhere and I think he’s that “quiet good” kinda pitcher. Not many people (besides O’s fans) notice him but once he throws against your team, you’re like “oh, this guy is actually pretty good.” He has learned to control his pitches this season and thus, has become one of the more consistent guys on the rotation. As for why he has better FIP stats than Britton and Guthrie (I admit I had to look up what this meant): Guthrie pitches a decent game every outing, but he loses almost every time because whenever he’s on the mound, the O’s offense is elsewhere. Britton definitely looks to be the better out of the 2 in general depsite the FIP stats. He pitches longer games and gives up less hits at the wrong time. I also think the O’s love playing the game with Britton on the mound, it just seems that way.

Seattle Mariners:

1. What do you feel the Mariners need to improve on to get closer to the top of the AL West standings?

They have three major positions in need of upgrades/overhaul. Designated Hitter, Left Field and Catcher.

DH – We haven’t had a competent designated hitter in nearly 5 years. It’s killing us. Cust while not as terrible as the fan base makes him out to be hasn’t been good either. The Mariners just need someone who can hit. They just brought up Mike Wilson and there is a good argument to use him out of the DH slot against lefties. But for them to compete they need a “professional” hitter.

Left Field – This has been a legitimate hole since the beginning of the franchise. With the exception being the 5+ years of Raul Ibanez (who was still terrible defensively) and a few years of fan favorite Phil Bradley. Otherwise it’s been a rotating mess of who’s who. The most recent of which to leave the revolving door is none other than Milton Bradley. I suppose the rest of the year they will use a platoon of something like Mike Wilson and Carlos Peguero with Michael Saunders mixed in and a few others may get a chance.

Catcher – Miguel Olivo has been terrible. I thought he may have some redeeming qualities, such as hitting lefties well or being a good defensive catcher, but no. I guess not. What is even worse is at a time that is ripe with the position being up for grabs Adam Moore gets himself hurt. There is little to no future within the organization at this position and right now the Mariners must seek someone from another organization. Which isn’t promising being that there is a league wide shortage of decent if not good catchers.

It doesn’t seem like a lot but if the Mariners got 3 additional position players that could contribute 2-3 WAR on top of the building blocks they have (Smoak, Ichiro, Figgins, Gutierrez and soon Ackley too) and the pitching rotation that is in place they’d at least be in the mix.

2. What has surprised you the most about the Mariners so far this season (i.e. player or just something in general)?

I think what has surprised me most is how this season has been streaky. I thought the Mariners would be a near .500 team. Floating around 75-77 wins this season and with being 16-19 they are pretty much on pace for something like that. But how they’ve gotten that record is just astonishing. A terrible start to the season with an amazing 15 game stretch where they beat a couple of really good ball clubs.

It’s been an up and down year and while I’m not surprised they have 16 wins right now. I’m surprised at how much of an up and down year it’s been so far.

3. Out of the 3 starters in this series, who do you think has the best chance to win against the O’s? The best chance to lose?

Obviously when you have Felix going for you, you feel you should win every game. He’s an amazing pitcher and I don’t see the Orioles line-up doing much against him. Same can be said with Michael Pineda, who has come on strong this year.

The one thing with Pineda is that he has been running some serious fly ball ratios and with the exception of last week has yet to really get burned. While the Orioles line-up has been struggling that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to muscle a few out on him. But, I still think Pineda gives the Mariners a very good chance to win any game he pitches. I think that either of those games are going to be incredibly tough for the Orioles to come out wins but still very possible depending on how their pitchers and defense perform.

Jason Vargas isn’t a bad pitcher, but does represent you’re best chance at escaping the series with a win. But, while he hasn’t been very good this year it’s been partly due to teams consistently finding “clutch” hitting against him. Last few years he’s tended to be a fly ball pitcher but with the aforementioned cutter he has an improved ground ball rate. If you want to beat him the way is in the air. Camden yard is going to let a few go out in this series and if he doesn’t have his command going for him he’s going to get burnt.

Thank you to Harrison Crow over at SoDo Mojo for collaborating with me on this one!

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