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Series Preview: Mariners (39-39) vs. Orioles (47-30)

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As the season reaches the halfway mark, the Mariners host the Orioles for four games this weekend.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

At a Glance:

Thursday, June 30 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Orioles

Mariners

RHP Chris Tillman

RHP Taijuan Walker

50%

50%

Friday, July 1 | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Orioles

Mariners

RHP Kevin Gausman

LHP Wade LeBlanc

54%

46%

Saturday | 7:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Orioles

Mariners

RHP Tyler Wilson

LHP James Paxton

50%

50%

Sunday | 1:10 pm

Away Team

vs.

Home Team

Orioles

Mariners

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

RHP Hisashi Iwakuma

46%

54%

*Game odds courtesy of FiveThirtyEight (Explainer)

Mariners

Orioles

Edge

Batting (wRC+)

107 (3rd in AL)

112 (2nd in AL)

Orioles

Fielding (FanGraphs Defense)

-12.0 (10th)

-13.2 (11th)

Mariners

Starting Pitching (FIP-)

105 (9th)

104 (8th)

Orioles

Bullpen (FIP-)

95 (11th)

87(7th)

Orioles

*Text appearing in italics has appeared in a previous series preview.

There are just 11 games left until the All-Star break. The Mariners are about to leave June behind and the seven scheduled off days in July are right around the corner. Winning the next three series before the break (an 8-3 record) would put the Mariners record at 47-42, and they’ll have done it against the AL East leader and two Wild Card rivals. We’ve seen this team at its best and worst already. To have a shot at the Wild Card race, it’s important for the Mariners to have a good month in July because the schedule in August looks brutal.

The Orioles:

The Orioles have gained 40 points on their odds to make the playoffs in June and have pushed their lead in the AL East to five and half games. They’ve gone 19-8 this month and they’ve done it by scoring a ridiculous amount of runs. In June, they’re averaging 6.74 runs per game, highest in the Majors, and have hit 55 home runs in this month alone, more than the Braves have hit all season long. Playing 17 of their 28 games at home will definitely help. On the road, they’ve been much less dangerous. They’ve won their last seven games and have scored 35 runs in their last three games.

Key Players

1B Chris DavisSince joining the Orioles in 2011, Chris Davis has turned into a premier power hitter, launching 183 dingers in that time. That success has come because he’s completely selling out for pull power. Almost 50% of his balls in play are to the pull side helping him run a home run per fly ball rate well above league average. That batted ball approach comes with a big downside: tons of strikeouts. Since 2011, he has the eighth highest strikeout rate among qualified batters. He’s done a lot of work to improve his walk rate as well, though some of it has to be driven by pitchers avoiding his terrifying power.

2B Jonathan SchoopWhen Jonathan Schoop sees a strike, he swings at it. He leads the American League in overall swing rate (60.1%) and swing rate at pitches in the zone (81.8%). Such a high swing rate could be a problem if he didn’t make quality contact. Luckily, he possesses excellent power and a batted ball profile that supports a high BABIP. Because he swings so much, he rarely takes a walk, and his strikeout rate isn’t pretty either. It’s a high risk, high reward approach but it’s working out for him.

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 .332/.390/.611 slash line while splitting his playing time between third base and shortstop.

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 slow start has been completely forgotten about after he launched 11 home runs and slashing .316/.357/.641. in June.

RF Mark Trumbo In just 77 games, Mark Trumbo has already surpassed his home run total from last year. 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 .325 BABIP to fall back to his career norms eventually.

Probable Pitchers

RHP Chris Tillman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

94 2/3

22.9%

8.6%

13.4%

43.2%

3.52

4.19

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Cutter

Changeup

Curveball

93.6 mph;

40.4%

93.4 mph;

16.7%

87.3 mph;

13.5%

85.1 mph;

14.5%

77.2 mph;

13.9%

Tillman PA

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 33.3% whiff rate he’s generating with that pitch. The last time he faced the Mariners, he pitched into the seventh inning, giving up just two runs on four hits and three walks, striking out six.

RHP Kevin Gausman

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

75 2/3

21.4%

5.6%

15.4%

44.1%

3.93

4.23

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Curveball

96.4 mph;

65.3%

94.3 mph;

3.5%

86.1 mph;

15.3%

81.4 mph;

11.5%

Gausman PA

In the first three years he spent in the majors, the Orioles refused to give Kevin Gausman a steady job in the rotation. He’s bounced between the minors and the majors each year since his debut while also dealing with a few injuries. He began this year on the disabled list but once he joined the rotation, he hasn’t looked back. He has excellent velocity on his fastball, and like most Oriole pitchers, a huge amount of rise. His best pitch is his splitter which he uses to generate a swinging strike more than 20% of the time. It’s a particularly nasty pitch for left-handed batters leading to a big reverse split over his career. His breaking ball isn’t nearly as effective as his other pitches which has held him back from truly breaking out.

RHP Tyler Wilson

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

78

12.2%

5.7%

10.8%

44.2%

4.50

4.62

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Changeup

Slider

90.9 mph;

41.1%

90.4 mph;

20.4%

82.8 mph;

12.8%

79.9 mph;

23.8

Wilson PA

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.

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

76

18.8%

12.3%

12.7%

50.2%

6.63

4.74

Pitches

Four-seam

Sinker

Splitter

Slider

Curveball

91.8 mph;

15.5%

91.2 mph;

42.9%

84.9 mph;

17.5%

83.2 mph;

15.0%

76.2 mph;

6.5%

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 .376 against him.

The Big Picture:

The AL West

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Rangers

51-28

.646

-€”

W-W-W-W-L

Astros

42-37

.532

9.0

W-L-W-W-W

Mariners

39-39

.500

11.5

W-W-L-W-L

Athletics

35-43

.449

15.5

W-L-W-W-W

Angels

32-47

.405

19.0

L-W-L-L-L

The Wild Card Race

Team

W-L

W%

Games Behind

Recent Form

Red Sox

42-36

.538

-€”

L-L-L-W-L

Blue Jays

43-37

.538

-€”

W-L-L-W-W

Royals

41-36

.532

0.5

L-W-W-L-W

Astros

42-37

.532

0.5

W-L-W-W-W

Tigers

40-38

.513

2.0

L-L-L-W-W

The Angels are in freefall mode after winning just one of their last ten games. They were swept at home by the Astros and now head to Boston this weekend. The White Sox head to Houston this weekend, hoping to slow down a team that’s lost just once in their last 11 games. The Indians have extended their winning streak to 12 games and host the Blue Jays for four games this weekend. After wrapping up their series in New York this morning, the Rangers head to Minnesota to beat up on the weakest team in the American League.