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Series Preview: Mariners (21-16) at Orioles (23-13)

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The Mariners are on the road in Baltimore facing one of the best teams in the American League.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

At a Glance:

Tuesday, May 17 | 4:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Orioles

LHP Wade Miley

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

46%

54%

Wednesday, May 18 | 4:05 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Orioles

RHP Taijuan Walker

RHP Chris Tillman

45%

55%

Thursday, May 19 | 9:35 am

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Mariners

Orioles

RHP Nate Karns

RHP Tyler Wilson

47%

53%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Orioles

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

106 (3rd in AL)

117 (2nd in AL)

Orioles

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-13.8 (14th)

-5.0 (10th)

Orioles

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

98 (6th)

91 (2nd)

Orioles

Bullpen (FIP-)

91 (8th)

74 (1st)

Orioles

It might surprise you to find out that the Baltimore Orioles have won the most games in the American League since 2012. They have just two playoff appearances to show for it but they’ve somehow figured out a way to build a consistently successful team out in Baltimore. They’re back at it again this year and now hold the best record in the American League after a poor weekend from the White Sox.

The Mariners hit their first bump in the road since their opening homestand. Despite being swept, they had opportunities to win each game of the series against the Angels. Luckily, the Rangers couldn’t hold off the Athletics yesterday and dropped into a virtual tie for the division lead. The Mariners’ playoff odds took a bit of a hit after the sweep but are still holding around 55% (or 68% if you prefer Baseball Prospectus).

The Orioles:

As expected, the Orioles offense has been one of the best in the majors and they’ve hit more home runs than any other team. It’s their pitching staff that’s been the most surprising. Their pitchers have collectively posted the lowest FIP in the American League and only the Mariners and the White Sox have a lower team ERA. Much of their success has been due to a refusal to allow the ball to leave the yard. Their home run rate is among the lowest in baseball, but considering their home park, it should regress towards league average as the season progresses.

Key Players

SS Manny Machado Two major knee injuries seriously curtailed Manny Machado’s early career development. But despite missing around half a season of games in 2014, he’s managed to accumulate 19.1 fWAR since 2012, the 14th highest mark in the majors. Always an elite defender, he took his offensive game to new heights last year. He cut his strikeout rate, increased his walk rate, and pushed his isolated power over .200 by launching 35 home runs. He’s raced out to an impressive start this year, posting a .333/.387/.653 slash line while filling in at shortstop for the injured J.J. Hardy.

CF Adam Jones Adam Jones crossed the age-30 plateau last year and all the wear and tear on his body might be catching up to him. Between 2010 and 2014, he missed just 29 games but back troubles forced him to miss 25 games last year. Always a free swinger, he’s relied on his excellent contact ability and power to drive his offensive game. In his "old age," he’s become more patent and has pushed his walk rate to a career high this year. A rib injury slowed him down in April but he’s come alive recently, hitting .467/.500/.933 over the last week.

RF Mark Trumbo In just 36 games, Mark Trumbo has accumulated the exact same amount of fWAR this year that he did in all of 2015. Just to spite Skiba. There really isn’t much different with Trumbo, he’s still striking out too much, he isn’t walking very much, and he’s still hitting for prodigious power. The main difference has been a refusal to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone. He’s cut his O-Swing% by seven points and his O-Contact% has fallen by 12 points. These plate discipline improvements have led to a career high batting average rather than an improvement in strikeout rate or walk rate. I’d expect his .356 BABIP to fall back to his career norms eventually.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

40 2/3

19.9%

10.8%

15.6%

54.4%

4.87

4.48

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

91.7 mph;

20.3%

90.8 mph;

38.2%

84.8 mph;

20.8%

82.8 mph;

13.6%

76.2 mph;

6.2%

Jimenez PA

It feels like Ubaldo Jimenez has been around forever—this will be his eleventh season in the majors—but he’s just 32 years old. Once a promising pitcher who showed he was capable of conquering Coors Field, he just couldn’t replicate his early career success once he left the mile high city. He’s always struggled with command but has made up for it with a good strikeout rate. He’s throwing his splitter more often with the Orioles and it’s led to a spike in his ground ball rate over the last two years. Unfortunately, batters are still making hard contact against him and are running a BABIP of .369 against him.

RHP Chris Tillman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

45 1/3

26.0%

9.9%

2.1%

38.6%

2.58

2.62

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.7 mph;

38.6%

93.4 mph;

15.8%

87.4 mph;

15.7%

85.0 mph;

14.7%

77.6 mph;

15.2%

Tillman

Chris Tillman is the perfect example of what tinkering with your pitch mix can do to take a pitcher to the next level. Between 2012 and 2014, Tillman’s ERA was almost a full run lower than his FIP. He didn’t walk many, struck out just enough, and worked some BABIP magic to prevent the rest from getting hits. The foundation of his arsenal was his rising fastball. His command of that pitch helped him post low walk rates and baffle hitters into pop-ups and lazy fly balls. After a rotten year last year, he’s throwing his fastball less often than ever. Instead, he’s turned to his cutter and it’s been revolutionary for him. His strikeout rate is higher than ever before and much of that is due to the 40% whiff rate he’s generating with that pitch. His walk rate has also risen but he’s been able to mitigate it with the strikeouts and a refusal to allow home runs.

RHP Tyler Wilson

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

30 2/3

12.0%

5.6%

9.4%

47.1%

2.93

4.16

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

91.3 mph;

47.6%

90.7 mph;

15.6%

83.0 mph;

16.1%

79.8 mph;

20.7%

In college, Tyler Wilson was overshadowed by his rotation mate, Danny Hultzen. They were both drafted in 2011 but Wilson, by virtue of his perfect health, has made it to the majors while Hultzen languishes in injury purgatory. He was never a top prospect in the Orioles organization but he was able to put up pretty decent numbers at every minor league stop on his way through the organization. He doesn’t generate many strikeouts but he’s able to command all four of his pitches out of the bullpen and as a spot starter. His slider might be his most impressive pitch, though it’s more like a slurve. He’s able to generate the second highest horizontal movement and the eighth highest vertical movement with the pitch among all sliders thrown in the majors.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Mariners

21-16

.568

W-W-L-L-L

Rangers

22-17

.564

W-L-W-W-L

Angels

17-21

.447

4.5

L-W-W-W-W

Athletics

17-22

.436

5.0

L-W-L-W-W

Astros

15-24

.385

7.0

W-L-W-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

24-14

.632

+2.0

W-W-L-W-W

Rangers

22-17

.564

W-L-W-W-L

Indians

18-17

.514

2.0

L-W-L-L-W

Royals

18-19

.486

3.0

W-L-W-L-W

Blue Jays

19-21

.475

3.5

L-W-L-L-L

After the events of this weekend, whatever goodwill that existed between the Rangers and the Blue Jays dissipated with one swing (of a fist). The Rangers managed to win the series after a walk-off on Saturday and a slugfest on Sunday. They lost to the Athletics yesterday to start a three-game series in Oakland. The Astros showed some life against the Mariners and Indians last week but were dismantled by the Red Sox over the weekend. Their gauntlet of the best teams in the American League doesn’t end as they travel to Chicago to take on the White Sox.