Manager: Scott Servais (1st season)
Last 10 games: 5-5
Who to watch: 2B Robinson Cano (.290 with 12 HR, 34 RBIs), RF Nelson Cruz (7 HR, 21 RBIs), 3B Kyle Seager (7 HR, 21 RBIs), RHP Taijuan Walker (2-2, 2.63 ERA), RHP Steve Cishek (3.10 ERA, 11 saves)
Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (3-3 in 2015)
Inside the Mariners:
If you predicted back before the season started that the Orioles and Mariners meeting in mid-May at Camden Yards would match two teams challenging for division leads, step to the head of the class. No one outside of Baltimore expected the Orioles to contend at this point in the season, and the Mariners' freefall last season after they'd been anointed a dark horse team made even those who play the long shots a tad skeptical of what might unfold in Seattle in 2016. But here they are, the Orioles battling the Red Sox for first in the American League East and the Mariners fighting the Rangers for the top spot in the AL West, which adds some luster to the Preakness Week matchup. That the Mariners have succeeded this well this soon under first-year skipper Scott Servais only adds to their surprise season.
Robinson Cano, who over the winter was criticized by one of his former Mariners coaches for a lack of hustle during a disappointing 2015, has experienced a resurgence. His 34 RBIs are tied for the lead the majors and he's tied atop the American League in home runs (12). In May, he's slashing .387/.397/.661. Third baseman Kyle Seager has hit safely in 12 of 14 games, posting a .375 average. And the Mariners are getting some power from a face familiar to Orioles fans: right fielder Nelson Cruz, who has seven homers and 21 RBIs. Since April 21, shortstop Ketel Marte is hitting .323. The Mariners aren't wowing anyone with offense in most of the statistical categories, but their 50 home runs are fourth in the majors.
Lefty Wade Miley, who starts Tuesday's opener, has posted a 4.91 ERA in seven starts, but he's worked at least six innings in six of them and pitched a complete-game five-hitter in a 6-0 win against the Royals on April 30. The Mariners have won his last four starts and five of seven overall. Against the Orioles, he's 0-2 with a 10.13 ERA and 1.80 WHIP in three career starts, both losses coming at Camden Yards, where he has a 15.63 ERA and 2.52 WHIP. Righty Taijuan Walker, who starts Wednesday, has been ranked as Seattle's top pitching prospect for several years, and finally seems to be taking a step forward. He's got a stingy 2.63 ERA, and has walked six and fanned 38 in 37 2/3 innings this season. Walker had a 1.40 ERA in April, but that mark has risen to 4.97 in May. Two starts ago, he departed after two innings with a neck problem. In two career starts against the O's, he's got a 5.59 ERA and no decisions. Right-hander Nate Karns starts Thursday's businessman's special, and he's got some history - though not much tangible success - against the Birds. In four career games versus Baltimore, Karns is 0-1 with a 3.86 ERA. He's gone at least six innings in his past four starts - posting quality starts each time - and has yielded seven runs over that span.
The one place the Mariners are unsettled right now is the back end of their bullpen, where closer Steve Cishek has hit a rough patch. For the season's first five weeks, Cishek made Seattle look like a thief for signing him as a free agent in the offseason. After picking up his ninth save on May 5, he had a microscopic 0.64 ERA. Since then, the former Marlins closer has blown three of five save chances, including his last two. Lefty Vidal Nuno (1.69 ERA) and righty Nick Vincent (1.72 ERA) have been doing some nice work out of the 'pen, which now includes former Oriole Steve Johnson.