Opposite dugout: Even with Cruz, Mariners don't have consistency or pitching to compete

MarinersLogo.jpgManager: Lloyd McClendon (2nd season)

Record: 52-60

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: RF/DH Nelson Cruz (.325/.391/.607 with 33 HR, 69 RBIs), 3B Kyle Seager (.265/.323/.434 with 16 HR, 44 RBIs), 2B Robinson Cano (.266/.312/.419 with 12 HR, 50 RBIs), RHP Taijuna Walker (8-7, 4.67 ERA), RHP Carson Smith (13 holds, 12 saves, 2.76 ERA)

Season series vs. Orioles: 1-2

Pitching probables:

Aug. 10: LHP Wei-Yin Chen vs. LHP Vidal Nuno, 10:10 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 11: RHP Chris Tillman vs. RHP Taijuan Walker, 10:10 p.m., MASN2
Aug. 12: RHP Kevin Gausman vs. RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, 3:40 p.m., MASN

Inside the Mariners:

After missing out on the postseason by one game last year, the Mariners haven't been able to live up to their preseason expectations of competing in the American League West and making another run at the playoffs this year. Even with some strong bats in the lineup and a Cy Young Award winner, the Mariners haven't been consistent enough to keep up with the surging, young Astros and star-studded Angels. They actually haven't even been able to stay with .500 Texas, who are within four games of a wild card spot.

With lackluster pitching aside from right-hander Felix Hernandez, who will miss this series after tying the major league lead in wins with his 14th on Sunday, this supposedly daunting lineup hasn't been so on a consistent basis for Seattle to be in contention. The Mariners rank in the bottom three in the AL in runs (419), RBIs (398) and on-base percentage (.303), and are last in batting average (.242). Although they do rank fifth in home runs (128), they are the only top-five team to not be in serious contention for the postseason.

Former Oriole outfielder and part-time designated hitter Nelson Cruz continues to have another MVP-type year. He is tied with the Angels' Mike Trout for the league lead with 33 homers and tied with Texas' Prince Fielder with the second-best batting average of .325. Cruz has also knocked in 69 runs while hitting for a .391 OBP and .607 slugging percentage. But he can only do so much.

Second baseman Robinson Cano is having a down year by his standards, with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs while slashing .266/.312/.419. Third baseman Kyle Seager is following up his first All-Star campaign last year with 16 homers and 44 RBIs. He's also adding a .265/.323/.434 slash line. And that's pretty much the point where the Mariners lineup falls off. First baseman Logan Morrison has knocked 12 homers, but those have accounted for 1/3 of his RBIs by themselves, while he's only batting .220. And center fielder Austin Jackson and shortstop Brad Miler have combined for only 15 longballs while batting just .250 and .247, respectively. The Mariners also acquired outfielder and first baseman Mark Trumbo from the Diamondbacks, but he is only hitting .246 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in his 50 games with Seattle.

The Mariners also acquired left-hander Vidal Nuno from Arizona in that June 3 trade. Nuno, who starts the series opener, was 0-1 with a 1.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings over three appearances for the D-backs this season. Meanwhile, he's about to make his second start in 19 appearances for the Mariners, where he's posted a 2.88 ERA. In his first start in Colorado last week, Nuno went 3 2/3 innings, giving up five hits (two home runs), three runs, two walks and two strikeouts while taking a no-decision. He is 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA in three appearances (one start) against the Orioles from his time with the Yankees.

Righty Taijuan Walker will start the second game against former Mariner Chris Tillman at Safeco Field. Walker's 8-7 record and 4.67 ERA are products of him being one of those streaky pitchers this year. After starting the season 1-5 with a 7.33 ERA through mid-May, he won five of his next six starts and brought his ERA down to 4.34. However, since the end of that hot streak, Walker is just 1-1 with a 5.50 ERA over his last six starts, which does include a complete game against Minnesota at the end of July. Walker's only start against the Orioles came this past May 19 at Camden Yards, when he pitched just 3 2/3 innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and four walks with three strikeouts while taking the no-decision in the 9-4 O's win.

Hisashi Iwakuma gets the ball for Wednesday's series finale matinee. The one-time All-Star and Cy Young candidate has had his season hampered by a long stint on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle. He is only 3-2 in 10 starts with a 4.41 ERA this season for Seattle. But he went 0-1 with a 6.61 ERA in three starts before going on the DL and is 3-1 with a 3.64 ERA in his seven starts since coming back. However, Iwakuma is 0-2 with a 3.66 ERA in three career starts versus the Birds.

By beating the Rangers yesterday, the Mariners won their second consecutive series for the first time since May. So while 8 1/2 games back in their division and eight games back from the last AL wild card spot, Seattle gets to look toward their offseason a little earlier than last year. They added a big stick by signing Cruz, but with only two pitchers above four wins on the season, they might need to take a close look at the big name pitchers who are hitting the free agency market at this season's close.

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