Series Preview #15: Seattle Mariners (20-21) at Cleveland Indians (22-17)

The Seattle Mariners continue their cross-country tour with their lone stop to the shores of Lake Erie this weekend as they take on the Cleveland Indians in a four-game set.

The Mariners (20-21) pulled into second place in the American League West after a series win over the New York Yankees. They have won or split each of their last six series (five wins, one split). They still trail the division-leading Texas Rangers by seven games.

The Indians (22-17) got a much needed day off on Thursday, their last of the month, but were still able to move back into a first place tie in the AL Central, courtesy of a Detroit loss to Texas. During a 14-games-in-13-days span, the Indians were 10-4. They now begin a stretch of 20 straight games before their next day off.

Seattle’s rookie starting pitcher Brandon Maurer (2-5, 5.97 ERA) will make his first trip to Progressive Field in Friday’s 7:05 PM ET opener. He has been the pitcher of record in each of his first seven Major League starts and has settled down after allowing six earned runs in each of his first two career starts. Ubaldo Jimenez (3-2, 5.55) will oppose. He aims to win four consecutive decisions for the first time since August of 2009. Fans in attendance will be treated to $1 Sugardale hot dogs and postgame fireworks.

Joe Saunders and Zach McAllister will face off in Saturday’s 1:05 PM start. Saunders (3-4, 5.51) earned the win his last time out after allowing one earned run on five hits in six and one-third innings. The lefty has struggled on the road this season – he is 0-4 in four road starts with a 12.54 ERA. McAllister (3-3, 2.68) has quietly been one of the best pitchers on the Indians’ staff this season. He has completed five innings in every start this year and has not allowed more than three earned runs in any start.

The pitching matchup of the series takes place at 1:05 PM on Sunday, as Felix Hernandez and Justin Masterson will take center stage. Hernandez (5-2, 1.53) is 6-4 in his career against the Indians with a 2.90 ERA. He has thrown six innings or more in every start this season and has just one start with fewer than five strikeouts. Masterson (6-2, 3.14) is coming off of a brilliant 1-0 complete game shutout of the Yankees on Monday. He leads the AL in shutouts (2), complete games (2), games started (9), and batters faced (259); is second in wins (6) and innings pitched (63); and is sixth in strikeouts (60).

The series concludes with a Monday afternoon 12:05 PM first pitch, as Hisashi Iwakuma will take on Scott Kazmir. Iwakuma (5-1, 1.84) has been locked in so far this year. He has won three straight decisions and opponents are hitting just .183 off of him this season. He has allowed less than three earned runs in eight of his nine starts. Kazmir (2-2, 5.33) allowed four earned runs on Wednesday after striking out ten Athletics hitters in his previous start.

Seattle took two of three from the New York Yankees earlier this week to move one game from the .500 mark for the first time since April 9th.

In Tuesday’s battle of former Cy Young winners, a back injury to King Felix proved to be the Mariners’ undoing, as Seattle squandered a three run lead late and lost by a 4-3 final. Hernandez allowed one run in six innings and struck out eight; the bullpen allowed three earned runs for the loss. CC Sabathia allowed ten hits on the night, but struck out ten in a no-decision. Raul Ibanez homered against his former team in the loss.

Seattle bounced back in a big way in the second game of the series, putting a seven-spot on the board before New York even stepped to the plate on the way to a 12-2 win. Iwakuma earned the win and pitched seven quality innings. Phil Hughes was unable to make it out of the first inning for the Yankees. Ibanez added two more home runs and drove in six.

In the rubber match on Thursday, the Mariners held on late and stranded the Yankees’ tying run at third base with one out to earn the 3-2 win. Seattle prevented the 250th career win for Yankees starter Andy Pettitte, who left in the fifth inning with a back injury. Mike Morse hit a solo homer in the sixth and closer Tom Wilhelmsen earned his eleventh save in eleven opportunities.

After a slow start to the season, Ibanez has come on in May. He is batting .348 with four home runs and twelve RBI in the month, including a 4-for-13 performance against the Yankees with three home runs and eight driven in, both totals surpassing his entire output in April.

Morse has continued to put on a hitting display at the plate. He has four consecutive multi-hit games coming into the series (.600) and has remained amongst the league leaders in home runs with ten on the season.

Kendrys Morales has hits in each of his last six games and eight of his last nine. He is batting .294 in that span with one home run, three doubles, and five runs batted in.

The right-handed closer Wilhelmsen has not allowed a hit to a right-handed batter this season. Entering action against the Indians Friday night, righties are 0-for-30 on the season against him with eight strikeouts.

Relievers for Seattle as a whole have stranded 49 of the 58 runners they have inherited (84.5%), leading all of baseball.

The Indians earned another series split, this time against the Philadelphia Phillies, before a much needed day off on Thursday.

Philadelphia took advantage of the suddenly chilled Cleveland offense as Phillies starter Jonathan Pettibone allowed a pair of runs and four hits on the way to a 6-2 victory. Pettibone won his third game of the season and gave the Indians bats fits at the plate. Kazmir (2-2) pitched five innings and was hit with the loss. He allowed four runs on six hits, including a pair of home runs.

The Indians got to another veteran, well-established starting pitcher on Wednesday as they defeated Cole Hamels and the Phillies by a 10-4 final. Corey Kluber (3-2) rebounded from a tough outing against Detroit to give the Indians a quality start and a split in the series. The bats woke up for Cleveland, as Mike Aviles, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis all went yard. Kipnis had three extra base hits on the afternoon and drove in three. Swisher’s home run was his first of the season outside of Progressive Field.

After a difficult month of April, Kipnis has bounced back in May. He has raised his batting average 36 points over the month and has driven the ball with authority. After accumulating just four extra base hits in his first month of action, he equaled that production through his first five games of May and has twelve at the half-way point of the month, including five of his six home runs on the year and 16 of his 20 RBI.

Michael Brantley enters the series with Seattle with a five-game hitting streak. He walked and scored after entering the game as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning on Wednesday. He is batting .333 in May to improve his batting average to .303 on the season.

Reserve catcher Yan Gomes is batting .368 in limited action in May as he continues to make a case for a place on the 25-man roster. Half of his hits on the season have been for extra bases (two doubles, two triples, two home runs).

Mark Reynolds has just three hits in his last 20 at bats (.150). Carlos Santana has not fared any better – he has four hits in his last 24 at bats (.167) and is batting .156 over his last ten games.

Things are relatively quiet on the injury front for both teams.

Former Indians outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is on the 15-day disabled list for the Mariners with a strained right hamstring. He began a Minor League rehab assignment on Thursday.

Starter Aaron Harang was scratched from a scheduled start on Thursday against New York with lower back stiffness.

The Mariners added right-handed pitcher Danny Farquhar from Triple-A Tacoma. Hector Noesi, who made the spot start for Harang on Thursday, was optioned to Tacoma.

Cleveland reliever Vinnie Pestano was activated Friday prior to the start of the series. Nick Hagadone continued to blaze a path back and forth between Cleveland and Columbus when he was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday to make room on the roster for Pestano.

Brett Myers threw a bullpen session on Tuesday. He may return later this month from the 15-day disabled list.

Reynolds said he hyperextended his elbow during an at bat against Philadelphia on Wednesday but believed he was “okay”. He is slated to see more playing time at third base after the demotion of Lonnie Chisenhall to Columbus.

The Indians hold the all-time, home field, and road advantages against the Mariners. The Indians have won 205 and dropped 162 as the two clubs enter their 37th season of competition. Cleveland owns a 27 game lead at home and a 16 game lead on the road.

All four games of the series will be shown on Root Sports and Fox Sports SportsTime Ohio. Radio broadcasts are available on AM 710 ESPN in the Pacific Northwest and on the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.

Seattle will fly to California for a pair of games against the Los Angeles Angels following the completion of the series Monday afternoon. Cleveland will welcome the Detroit Tigers to town for the first time this season for a short two-game set.

Photo: Hunter Martin/Getty Images

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