First-place Mariners face powerful Orioles: 3 things to know

May 17, 2024, 8:42 AM | Updated: 9:04 am

Seattle Mariners...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners during a 2024 game. (David Berding/Getty Images)

(David Berding/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners have won eight of their past nine series and have surged into first place in the American League West at 24-20. Now they get perhaps their toughest test of the young season with a trip to Camden Yards to play one of the best teams in the American League, the Baltimore Orioles (27-14).

Seattle Mariners the ‘team to beat’ in AL West? Why that’s now the case

The Mariners open a three-game set with the Orioles on Friday at 4:05 p.m. You can listen all the action on Seattle Sports 710 AM or on the Seattle Sports app.

Here are three things to know for the clash of division leaders.

Seattle Mariners at Baltimore Orioles primer

The Orioles have built a strong pitching staff

Baltimore has been one of the best stories in MLB over the past two seasons as it climbed from the cellar of the league to the top of the pack. The Orioles lost a whopping 110 games and finished with the league’s worst record in 2021, but, somewhat like the 2021 Mariners, surprised everyone on their way to a winning 83-79 record in 2022. With a stockpile of hitting talent continuing to make its way up to the big leagues last season, Baltimore continued its ascent, finished first in the AL East with 101 wins and broke a seven-year playoff drought.

So Baltimore has been good for a couple seasons now, but one area that was a constantly critiqued was the starting pitching. At the start of last season, the most recognizable name on the Orioles’ starting staff was veteran Kyle Gibson, who’s have a solid but unspectacular big league career. In fact, many experts believed the Mariners and Orioles were destined trade partners due to Baltimore’s abundance of young hitters and Seattle’s strong core of young pitchers.

The Orioles ended up finding another trade partner and made one of the biggest splashes of the offseason when they acquired Cy Young award winner Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop Joey Ortiz and left-hander DL Hall. Burnes last pitched Monday and could face the Mariners this weekend. Baltimore’s pitching probables weren’t listed as of Thursday night. Its game Tuesday was postponed and it had the day off Thursday, meaning the Orioles could push someone back and still give Burnes up to five days rest if he were to pitch Sunday. The Mariners should miss Kyle Bradish, who was Baltimore’s best starter during a breakout 2023 campaign. He started on Wednesday. But the rest of the Orioles’ staff has been solid. Cole Irvin, John Means and Dean Kramer all sport sub-4.00 ERAs. That includes a 2.90 ERA for Irvin, a pitcher the Mariners likely won’t need much motivation to compete against.

One solace Mariners hitters can take is they won’t have to face standout closer Félix Bautista. The flame-throwing right-hander is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October of 2023. Baltimore turned to veteran Craig Kimbrel to take over as the closer, but he hasn’t been used in a save situation in nearly two weeks after early struggles.

The Orioles crush baseballs

The Mariners’ pitching staff is about to be tested by facing a lineup that hits baseball as hard as any in the league. The Orioles lead MLB with 64 home runs and are second to only the Atlanta Braves with a hard hit rate at 34.3%. That hasn’t resulted in a ton of swing and miss either, as the O’s are in the middle of the pack 22.3% strikeout rate.

Leading the power surge is 22-year-old shortstop Gunnar Henderson, who’s among four players tied for second in baseball with 12 home runs. Henderson also sports the third-highest hard hit rate in baseball at 45.3%, trailing only Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh (50%) and Orioles teammate Jordan Westburg (45.6%).

Seven more Orioles have hit at least five home runs, including nine from switch-hitting catcher Adley Rutschman. The only catchers to hit more home runs this season are Raleigh and Kansas City’s Salvador Perez, who each have 10. Rutschman, a Portland native, is batting a team-high .314. Westburg is hitting .301 with seven homers. The trio has helped lead an offense that’s fourth in the AL in runs scored (203), second in wRC+ 114 and leads baseball with a .442 slugging percentage.

Mariners pitchers have been just about average at preventing home runs and sit 13th in the league with 43 allowed this season. However, some of that is aided by playing at the pitcher-friendly confines of T-Mobile Park. Camden Yards was previously a homer haven before the fences in left and left-center field were drastically moved back and risen before the 2022 season, and the Orioles have hit the ball out of the park less at home. They’ve played nine more home games than road games and hit just 26 of their league-leading 64 homers at Camden Yards.

What not to expect

If there’s one thing not to expect in this series, it’s seeing many batters get free passes.

The Orioles do many things well offensively, but their young lineup doesn’t draw many walks. Baltimore is 29th in the league with a 6.9% walk rate, ahead of only the Miami Marlins. The Mariners’ pitching staff also does many things well, and not walking batters tops that list. Seattle pitchers are tied for second in the league with an identical walk rate of 6.9%.

The Mariners are also slated to pitch their best pitchers in terms of preventing walks on Saturday and Sunday. Luis Castillo takes the mound in Game 2 and George Kirby is the series finale. They rank 18th and second in the league in walk rate, respectively, among qualified pitchers.

It doesn’t end there, though. Baltimore pitchers also excel at avoiding walks and are tied for fifth in the league at 7.7%.

More on the Seattle Mariners

• Morosi: Something ‘says a lot’ about Mariners closer Andrés Muñoz
• Mariners Takeaways: Woo looks good, Muñoz shouldering load, more
• Mike Blowers: How Mariners are about to face a ‘good problem’
• Mariners Updates: How Woo is feeling after return, latest on injuries
• Salk: The clear trade route for Seattle Mariners to capitalize on this year

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