Opposite dugout: Mariners take majors' best pitching staff into series with O's

MarinersLogo.jpgManager: Lloyd McClendon, first year
Record: 53-48
Last 10 games: 4-6
Who to watch: 2B Robinson Cano (.332/.389/.455, 23 doubles, 7 HR, 57 RBIs); 3B Kyle Seager (.277/.346/.486, 23 doubles, 16 HR, 66 RBIs); RHP Felix Hernandez (11-2, 2.02 ERA, 0.90 WHIP); RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (8-4, 2.95 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Season series vs. O's (2013): 4-2, 35 runs scored, 29 runs allowed

Pitching probables
July 24: Hisashi Iwakuma vs. Wei-Yin Chen, 10 p.m., MASN HD
July 25: Felix Hernandez vs. Kevin Gausman, 10 p.m., MASN2 HD
July 26: Chris Young vs. Bud Norris, 4 p.m., MASN2 HD
July 27: Roenis Elias vs. Miguel Gonzalez, 4 p.m., MASN2 HD

Series breakdown
The Orioles continue their gut punch of a start to the unofficial second half by visiting the Mariners for the final leg of their 10-game West Coast swing.

Baltimore already had to go through the top two teams in the American League West, which are tied for the most runs in the majors. Now they have to go through the division's third-place squad, a Seattle team that owns the top-ranked pitching staff in baseball.

The Mariners lead the majors with a 3.11 team ERA and a 2.39 bullpen ERA. Their rotation ranks second in the AL with a 3.46 ERA.

So the Orioles might not have many scoring chances over the next four games. And if Seattle continues to pitch as it has, Baltimore won't have many baserunners either - the Mariners lead the big leagues with a dazzling 1.15 WHIP.

The numbers remain that good even though the Mariners have allowed 3.7 runs per game in losing seven of their last 11 contests.

Seattle's starting staff is topped by right-handers Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Young, and the Orioles will have to go through all three in the first three games of the series.

Hernandez leads the AL with a 2.02 ERA, is one off the lead with 11 wins and ranks second with a 0.90 WHIP.

The Orioles have had some success against the Mariners ace over the years, as he's 5-4 with a 3.44 ERA in 15 career starts against them. While those numbers look good on the surface, they're weak for Hernandez. The 28-year-old hasn't lost more than five games to any team outside his division in his career, and the ERA is his fifth-worst against any AL foe.

But he's having a Cy Young-caliber year and Friday's match-up with young Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman should be fun to watch.

Iwakuma has been a second ace for the Mariners, going 8-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 15 starts. His 0.99 WHIP ranks fourth in the AL. He comes in as hot as can be, having gone 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA over his last four starts. The 33-year-old has struck out 28 and walked none in 28 2/3 innings during that stretch.

Iwakuma takes on 10-game winner Wei-Yin Chen in tonight's series opener.

Young has also been quite good returning to the majors for the first time since 2012, having gone 8-6 with a 3.22 ERA in 20 games (19 starts). He'll face Bud Norris on Saturday.

Rookie left-hander Roenis Elias (8-8, 4.41 ERA) will go up against Miguel Gonzalez in Sunday's series finale.

The Mariners' league-best bullpen is led by six relievers who have pitched to 2.60 ERAs or better in at least 36 appearances. Closer Fernando Rodney has 27 saves and a 2.33 ERA in 40 games. Left-hander Joe Beimel has also been crucial with a 1.39 ERA in 36 appearances.

Seattle hasn't had as much success offensively, but it hasn't had to. The Mariners are 13th in the AL with 396 runs, 14th with a .245 average, 15th with a .673 OPS and 10th with 81 homers.

Second baseman Robinson Cano has made a difference during his first season out West, ranking second in the AL with a .332 average. But after averaging 28 homers and 103 RBIs over the last five seasons, Cano has just seven homers and 57 RBIs in 96 games. That's a 12-homer, 96-RBI pace when projected over 162 games.

Third baseman Kyle Seager is having another strong year, batting .277 with team-highs of 16 homers and 66 RBIs. He's tied with Cano with a club-leading 23 doubles. Catcher Mike Zunino has added 15 doubles, 14 homers and 36 RBIs, but is batting .204.

So things don't get easier for the Orioles as they work their way down the tough AL West ladder. They've already made it through series with the A's and Angels, but now must go through the toughest pitching staff in the majors to prevent a losing road trip.

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