MLB

Series preview: Shipwrecked sailors visit birbland

Despite unfavorable pitching match-ups, the Mariners (20-28) outscored Houston 13-3 in their series over the Memorial Day weekend. The travel to the east coast to take on the Baltimore Orioles (21-29) in a three game series. This is a battle between two rebuilding teams, one that many thought would be in the thick of the playoff race and the other still a few years away.

Instead they’re both in eight games under .500 and have had struggles with both of their pitching staffs. That being said, of these two teams Orioles are by far the one that’s played better over their last ten as they are 5-5 while Seattle is 3-7.

Baltimore’s Memorial Day weekend was spent beating the absolute shit out of the previously red hot Red Sox at Fenway Park. The rare five game series included a double header on Saturday, May 28th that resulted in a split before a loss on Sunday; the Orioles ended up taking the series 3-2 with a blowout win on Memorial Day itself. It was a good weekend for the bats, but not such a good weekend for the pitching staff and it seems like the O’s will be bringing a taxed bullpen into this one.

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Projected Starters

Tuesday, May 31st at 4:05 PM

George Kirby RHPStatsBryan Baker RHP
4.50/3.39/3.14ERA/FIP/xFIP4.66/2.72/3.15
9.00K/99.78
0.90BB/92.79

Despite an impressively high ground ball rate of 42.1% (which is in line with his MiLB performance) Bryan Baker has only been able to strand 62.9% of runners that have reached base. For a starting pitcher that feels extremely low. And that seems to match-up with his FIP and xFIP; both numbers are significantly lower than his ERA which indicates that he’s been shafted by his defense at times.

George Kirby was brought up to replace the struggling Matt Brash and he’s been able to handle major league hitters with more ease than Brash. While his ERA in four starts is an eye popping 4.50 — in this offensive environment anyway — his FIP and xFIP are at a respectable level. What’s absolutely impressed me has been his command throughout the majority of his starts and the rookie hasn’t given up many walks as a result.

While aggressiveness worked against the Astros, with Baker on the mound it would make more sense for Seattle to take a more patient approach. The 27 year old has given up a lot of walks this season and if they can generate more traffic on the base paths it will give the offense more opportunities to create damage. As for Baltimore, Kirby’s low walk rate means the O’s should come out swinging to try and generate contact early.

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Wednesday, June 1st at 4:05 PM

Robbie Ray LHPStatsKyle Bradish RHP
4.75/4.17/3.62ERA/FIP/xFIP7.31/5.57/3.86
10.09K/99.21
3.62BB/92.86

Kyle Bradish has essentially been an innings eater for Baltimore through his first six starts. While the rookie has had an impressive groundball rate, his walk and dinger rates are concerning. At the same time, he’s also had a hard time stranding the runners he’s let get on base and that has often come back to bite him in the ass. This will be another test for the young right hander as he’s going up against one of the more patient lineups in the league this season.

Robbie Ray has not defended his crown as the AL Cy Young Award winner all that well through the first part of the season. The 30 year old has struggled with one big inning throughout his first ten stars and it’s hampered his effectiveness. Although in his last start against the helpless Oakland Athletics he was able to avoid that inning and it was a failure of his bullpen and offense that led to the loss.

Again, Bradish is an excellent opportunity for the Mariners’ to get on base and generate traffic. If they can sit back and force him to through pitches they should be able to generate a bunch of traffic. As for Ray, he’s been really good at pushing past said big inning to keep his offense in the game…the big question is will they be able to find the runs?

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Thursday, June 2nd at 4:05 PM

Chris Flexen RHPStatsJordan Lyles RHP
4.47/5.06/4.68ERA/FIP/xFIP4.26/4.05/3.90
6.62K/98.05
3.04BB/92.68

Jordan Lyles continues to be an innings eater that keeps his offense in the game and that’s exactly what a rebuilding Baltimore needs him to do. He’s got a strand rate that’s slightly above his career norms and he’s done it while striking out more batters than he typically does. At the same time he’s also giving up less walks than he has in the past. That’s made him a more effective pitcher and a welcome site for the O’s rotation.

In his last start against the Houston Astros Chris Flexen was absolutely dominant through seven innings. While his walk rate is a little too high for my taste, he’s been able to rely on a fairly solid defense to keep his strand rate at a career high of 79.1%. The good news is he’s going up against a less potent offense…the bad news is he’s in a smaller ballpark and those have been problematic for him since his return to MLB.

This is probably the game where a more aggressive approach would be beneficial for the M’s. Lyles has shown much better command over the first third of this season and it’s led to less walks as a result. The best chance for Seattle to generate traffic is going to be to put the ball in play. As for the Orioles, if they can be patient and force Flexen to work deep into the count then it could be a good day for them.

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Bullpen comparison

Seattle MarinersBaltimore Orioles
ERA/FIP/xFIP4.19/4.00/3.883.15/3.72/3.79
K/99.458.06
BB/93.173.44
HR/FB1.250.76
BABIP.294.280

Baltimore’s bullpen has easily been the strongest unit for the Orioles this season. It’s not given up a ton of dingers which has helped the unit not blow too many games late. While that walk rate is something Seattle could take advantage, especially with how patient this lineup typically is, it’s not something that they can rely on. Even with runners on, the O’s bullpen has been good at inducing ground balls to get out of trouble.

As for the M’s, their bullpen should be fairly rested after all of their starters went seven or more innings against the Astros. If the starters can eat at least six in this series, the pen should get a chance to rely on its more successful arms this season — with Drew Steckenrider in Tacoma that gets a lot easier. Unfortunately for Seattle, Camden yards is one of the smaller parks in the game and its tendency to give up back breaking home runs is something that I could see continuing if it’s close.

The advantage for the bullpen is in favor of Baltimore. But the game plan for the Mariners has to be to score runs early and often to put as much pressure on the O’s offense.

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Offensive comparison

Seattle MarinersBaltimore Orioles
Batting Avg./OBP/SLG.237/.318/.383.232/.300/.361
K%22.5%23.5%
BB%9.5%7.5%
wOBA.312.294
wRC+11191
BABIP.284.287
Runs per game3.983.80

Baltimore’s offense strikes out a little more, but walks a lot less than Seattle’s offense. And the Orioles haven’t had as much pop in their bats either, which is a big reason for the less run production. That’s not exactly a big surprise when you consider the fact that they’ve got a lot of feast or famine hitters on the roster. It leads to inconsistent performances that when it all comes together is beautiful to watch; but when it’s out of sync or most of the lineup is mired in slump…*shudders*.

As for Seattle, a change in approach against a talented Houston rotation paid off especially with the return of Kyle Lewis. Unfortunately the series finale on Sunday was an excellent reminder as to the struggles the M’s have had with cluster luck this season — which is the primary reason they have underperformed their peripherals.

For this series, I would expect to see the bats be a bit more patient against a starting rotation that has a tendency to give up walks. If the Mariners can consistently put Baltimore’s starters into high leverage situations frequently than they should be able to generate runs in the bandbox that is Camden Yards — it’s still tiny despite the recent renovation.

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The big picture

AL West

NameW-LGBLast 10
Houston Astros31-186-4
LAA Angels27-224.03-7
Texas Rangers23-2476-4
Seattle Mariners20-2810.53-7
Oakland Athletics20-3112.03-7
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AL Wildcard

NameW-LGBLast 10
Tampa Bay Rays28-20+1.55-5
Toronto Blue Jays27-20+1.07-3
LAA Angels27-223-7
Chicago White Sox23-232.55-5
Texas Rangers23-243.06-4
Boston Red Sox23-264.06-4
Cleveland Guardians20-244.54-6
Baltimore Orioles21-296.53-7
Seattle Mariners20-286.53-7

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Photo Credit: Baltimore Orioles