Opposite dugout: Mariners look to rebound in Baltimore

MarinersLogo.jpgManager: Scott Servais (3rd season)

Record: 47-31

Last 10 games: 3-7

Who to watch: DH Nelson Cruz (20 HR, 48 RBIs), 2B Dee Gordon (19 SB), SS Jean Segura (.334 with 21 doubles), RF Mitch Haniger (58 RBIs), LHP Wade LeBlanc (3-0, 3.26 ERA), RHP Edwin Diaz (27 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (2-4 in 2017)

Pitching probables:

June 25:RHP Félix Hernández (6-6) vs. RHP Andrew Cashner (2-8), 7:05 p.m., MASN
June 26: LHP James Paxton (6-2) vs. RHP Kevin Gausman (3-6), 7:05 p.m., MASN
June 27 LHP Wade LeBlanc (3-0) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (2-9), 7:05 p.m., MASN
June 28 RHP Mike Leake (8-4) vs. RHP Dylan Bundy (6-7), 3:05 p.m. MASN

Inside the Mariners:

The surprising Mariners spent 11 days atop the American League West in early June. But heading into the last week of the month, they’ve foundered, having lost six of their last seven games, and the defending world champion Astros now have a 4 1/2-game lead in the division. The Mariners come into hitter-friendly Oriole Park with one of the game’s great power hitters - a man who knows the venue well - and a supporting cast that brings plenty of pop, and some speed, too.

Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who signed with the Mariners after helping the Orioles get to the American League Championship Series in 2014, is every bit the masher O’s fans remember from when he wore the home whites at Camden Yards. He’s currently tied for fourth with Oakland’s Khris Davis for the major league lead in homers with 20, and is slashing at .274/.358/.573. Cruz is 13-for-18 lifetime with a home run and three walks against the Orioles starter for tonight, Andrew Cashner. Leading the Mariners in RBIs is right fielder Mitch Haniger. His 58 trail only the 60 belonging to the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez. The Mariners aren’t all about the big hits, either. Leadoff man Dee Gordon (.287/.308/.355) sits in fourth place among big league base-stealers. Gordon was the Mariners’ everyday center fielder to start the year, but has been holding down the fort at second base while Robinson Canó serves an 80-day suspension for testing positive for a banned diuretic. Meanwhile, Guillermo Heredia (.234/.333/.331) has played in center field. Shortstop Jean Segura’s .334 batting average puts him in third place among qualifying major league hitters, but an infection in his right forearm has sidelined him for the past four games, and his return to the lineup for tonight’s series opener is still a question mark.

Mariners ace Félix Hernández starts tonight’s opener. King Félix has been uncharacteristically generous with hitters this year, and his current 5.14 ERA is actually at its lowest point since May 1. We can attribute much of his misery to the base on balls, a problem he seems to have gotten a handle on this month. He’s shown much improvement, generally, over three out of the four starts he’s made in June. He took a tough loss June 14 against David Price and the Red Sox, striking out six over seven innings, while allowing just two runs on seven hits and one walk. In his last start on June 20, he went five innings against the Yankees, giving up two runs on six hits and a walk while striking out six. James Paxton starts for the Mariners tomorrow. The Canadian southpaw enjoyed a breakout season last year, going 12-5 and finishing with a 2.98 ERA. The two losses he’s taken this year came in his first start and his latest one. He struck out nine over five innings on June 21, but gave up four runs, just enough for the Yankees to beat him. Mariners hitters bailed him out in the start prior to that one. He made it through just 2 1/3 innings on June 15, allowing six runs on seven hits before the Mariners could overtake the Red Sox for a one-run win. Lefty Wade LeBlanc brings a 3.26 ERA to Wednesday’s contest. LeBlanc spent April in the Mariners bullpen. Since he’s joined the rotation, he’s been stingy. LeBlanc picked up his third win on June 16, pitching a shutout against the mighty Red Sox to propel the Mariners to a 1-0 victory. At 7 2/3 innings, it was by far his deepest appearance to date, and it seemed to show in his next, most recent outing. On June 22 he gave up six runs on 11 hits over 4 2/3 innings in Boston. Mike Leake gets the call for Thursday’s matinee. The right-hander has been piling up wins as he whittles away at an ERA that had been hovering around six runs in mid-May. His last start, this past Saturday in Boston, was a beaut. Leake shut out the Red Sox for eight innings, walking two and giving up just three hits.

The Mariners have a strong pair of late-inning guys in Chasen Bradford (3.00 ERA) and lefty James Pazos (2.08 ERA). Former Rays closer Alex Colomé recorded a save in his very first appearance after being traded to the Mariners. That was on May 27. He’s since been relegated to setting up in front of Edwin Diaz, a task Colomé has performed very well, picking up seven holds. Colomé blew a save in his last outing, however, giving up a two-run homer in the eighth to Gary Sánchez as the Yankees scored a come-from-behind win. Diaz, meanwhile, leads the majors with 27 saves, with very few hiccups in between. His most recent appearance - predictably, perhaps - didn’t go so well. On Saturday, it had been nearly a week since Diaz had last pitched. The Mariners were up 7-0 in Boston when Diaz came in just to get some work. Without the focus generated by a close score, Diaz gave up two runs on three hits. He did finish the game, and perhaps had his concentration reconstituted for this series.

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