Coming off a series win in Oakland, the Orioles’ first West Coast trip concludes with a three-game set in Seattle.
If you’re the kind of fan who loves Orioles-Mariners games, you’d better get your fill these next three days. After Wednesday, the two teams won’t see each other again this year.
The clubs played a unique four-game series in Baltimore three weeks ago in which, thanks to two rainouts and two doubleheaders, none of the four games actually went nine innings. That’s the first time in MLB history that’s happened, per The Athletic’s Jayson Stark.
Not too much has changed for the Mariners since the last time the Orioles saw them; the M’s left Baltimore three games over .500, and they begin this series three games over .500. The Mariners do have one key piece back in the lineup who missed the last O’s series: defending AL Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis, who returned from a bone bruise in his right knee April 20. Lewis has yet to get rolling, entering the series with a .184 average and .612 OPS.
He’s not alone. The majority of Mariners hitters have put up mediocre to pitiful numbers this season, with the notable exception of leadoff man Mitch Haniger, who has posted an .857 OPS, seven homers, and 20 RBIs after spending the entire 2020 season and most of 2019 on the shelf. Ty France and Kyle Seager have also been decent, but that’s pretty much it.
The bullpen has been carrying the Mariners so far; their relief crew has the best ERA in the AL at 2.30. Converted starter Kendall Graveman has been a revelation, allowing just five baserunners and striking out 12 while throwing 11.2 scoreless innings, and lefty Anthony Misiewicz is also sporting a perfect 0.00 ERA in 12 games. Right-handers Casey Sadler and Rule 5 pick Will Vest have ERAs below 2.00 as well.
The Mariners have some of the elements of a good team, but despite their winning record so far, this probably isn’t the year they’ll snap their 19-year postseason drought, the longest in professional sports. It’d be a great story if they could, though. I wish them nothing but success…as soon as the Orioles leave town.
Game 1: Monday, 10:10 PM ET
RHP Dean Kremer (0-2, 8.40) vs. TBD
If Kremer’s 10-day sojourn to the Bowie alternate site was supposed to help him refine his stuff, I don’t think it worked, you guys. His first start since his return to the bigs was his worst yet this year, as Kremer was tattooed for 10 hits and six runs April 28 by the Yankees, who hit the ball hard against him all day. Kremer has yet to complete five innings in any of his four starts. That includes an outing against these Mariners earlier this season, in which he lasted just three innings and gave up four runs.
For the M’s, this would normally be ace Marco Gonzales’ turn in the rotation, but he landed on the injured list with a left forearm strain. The Mariners are likely to use a bullpen game to replace him, possibly starting with freshly recalled right-hander Erik Swanson.
Game 2: Tuesday, 10:10 PM ET
RHP Jorge Lopez (1-3, 7.48) vs. RHP Justin Dunn (1-0, 3.98)
The Orioles are still soldiering forth with the Jorge Lopez starting experiment for some reason, even though he tires after four innings like clockwork (11 of the 16 batters he’s faced in the fifth inning this season have reached base). I suppose the O’s just need a stopgap until their nearly big league ready prospects have a few Triple-A outings under their belt, but expect the bullpen to have to cover lots of innings every time Lopez makes a start. Only three current Mariners have ever faced him, going 0-for-4 with two walks.
Dunn, a 25-year-old righty acquired in the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz trade with the Mets in 2018, has only one win this year…but it came against the Orioles, back on April 15. He allowed just two hits in that game and tied a career high with six strikeouts. Dunn continues to struggle with his control, as he’s done throughout his career; he’s walked 13 batters in 20.1 innings this year and has a brutal 6.6 BB/9 rate in his 18 career starts. O’s hitters would be well served to show some patience at the plate against him, but that’s generally not their strong suit.
Game 3: Wednesday, 3:40 PM ET
LHP John Means (3-0, 1.70) vs. LHP Yusei Kikuchi (1-1, 4.40)
In Baseball Reference’s WAR leaders among pitchers, it’s a four-way tie at the top at 1.7. There’s three star pitchers — Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Shane Bieber — and then…John Means. Not too shabby! You’ll find Means in the top 10 in the majors in a slew of statistical categories, from ERA (1.70) to ERA+ (244) to WHIP (0.838). Forget just being the Orioles’ best starter — Means is a bona fide MLB ace right now. His last three starts have been particularly brilliant, with two wins, a 1.33 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 20.1 innings. The only time he’s given up more than two runs in an outing this year was against this Mariners team in a no-decision April 13.
The 29-year-old Kikuchi, who had a stellar career for Japan’s Seibu Lions, hasn’t really established himself in his three years since joining the M’s. Still, he’s capable of brilliance from time to time, and he’s coming off a sensational start in Houston, in which he tossed seven innings of scoreless, one-hit ball. He’s faced the Orioles once before, in 2019, when he held them to three runs in six innings. Trey Mancini tagged him for a homer in that contest.