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Series Preivew: Seattle Mariners, Cincinnati Reds, and Ken Griffey Bobbleheads

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Saturday will feature a HOF giveaway. The Reds will look to not give away any more wins.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Game Times and Probable Starters

Great American Ballpark
Friday, May 20, 2016 @ 7:10pm:
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma vs. RHP Dan Straily
Saturday, May 21, 2016 @ 4:10pm: RHP Felix Hernandez vs. LHP John Lamb
Sunday, May 22, 2016 @ 1:10pm: LHP Wade Miley vs. RHP Alfredo Simon

At one point last offseason, it surely appeared that Hishashi Iwakuma was heading to Los Angeles to try and help fill a Zack Greinke sized hole in the Dodgers rotation. But, as Dodger's deals were wont to do this past offseason, it fell apart for one reason or another. In this case? The Dodgers were worried about Iwakuma's medical checks.

Eventually, Iwakuma would re-sign with the Mariners, and Seattle would retain the services of a very solid contributor to its last four seasons. Unfortunately, he's struggled to reach the heights of his previous performances. Since his All-Star season in 2013, when he finished third in AL Cy Young voting, Iwakuma's innings pitched have dropped steadily. He's never again approached his 130 ERA+ from that year. In fact, it cratered to 103 just the following season, before inching up a few points in 2015 in 50 less innings.

So far this year, Iwakuma's down to an 88 ERA+ with a 4.38 ERA, the highest of his career. In the back of their minds, the Mariners have to be wondering if the Dodgers concerns weren't valid after all.

Saturday's game should see the rare big crowd at GABP this year, as the Reds will honor Ken Griffey, Jr. with a duel bobblehead, commemorating both his time with the Reds and the Mariners. Couple that with the fact that one of the best pitchers of his generation, Felix Hernandez, will be taking the mound against the Reds for only the second time in his career, and there should be a lot to watch for on Saturday.

Felix Hernandez remains one of the best in the game until further notice. There has been, however, evidence of some cracks in the armor for the 12th year veteran. In his first 51 innings pitched this season, his strikeouts are down a full batter per 9 and his walks up more than that from 2015. That's resulted in a 1.91 SO/W, which, if sustained, will be the worst of his career. Couple that with a FIP in the 4s (territory it's never before been), and you're beginning to see where things could take a turn for the worse.

That being said, King Felix still owns a 2.47 ERA for the season, so the result speaks for itself. And, as we know, a visit with the Reds always has the potential to do a body good.

Most of what I said about Iwakuma can be applied to Wade Miley, who apparently is a pitcher for the Seattle Mariners now. It's been a struggle at times. Then again, he's seemed to have ironed things out a bit over the previous four starts. 18 of his 24 earned runs came in the first four starts of the season. Over the last four? 27 IP, 2.00 ERA, .168/.225/.326 slash against that includes a 9 inning, 5 hit shutout of the defending champion Royals. He'll have a good chance to keep the good times rolling against the Reds on Sunday, where he'll be opposed by Alfredo Simon.

Lineup

(Based off of playing time, probable lineup from Baseball Reference)

C Chris Ianetta
1B Adam Lind
2B Robinson Cano
SS Ketel Marte
3B Kyle Seager
LF Nori Aoki
CF Leonys Martin
RF Seth Smith
DH Nelson Cruz

There will be no designated hitter for this series, but I'm sure that will not stop the Mariners from getting Nelson Cruz's bat into the lineup. Just when you think he should fall off the cliff any time now, he just... doesn't. Fresh off a monster 2015 season (his best as a full time major leaguer), the 35 year old Cruz has slashed .283/.382/.514 in 165 plate appearances this young season, good for a 151 OPS+ that trails his 2015 campaign by just nine points.

Thing is, he's not even the most impressive hitter in the lineup because Robinson Cano has bounced back in a big way from a let-down 2015 season. Or, at least a let-down first half of the 2015 season. This could've been predicted: last season, from July 1 onward, Cano had a .920 OPS and smacked 17 home runes. But if Cano can keep up this pace, it'll be his best season ever at the ripe old age of 33 years old. Thus far, the former Yankee and current signed-until-he's-40 Mariner is slashing a cool .301/.345/.589 and leading the American League in home runs.

Couple that with the fact that Kyle Seager is tearing the cover off of the ball in a way that he hasn't since, what, 2014? And you've got yourself a very formidable lineup.

Bullpen

Steve Cishek
Mike Montgomery
Joel Peralta
Nick Vincent
Vidal Nuno
Steve Johnson
Joaquin Benoit

Let's start with the not-so-good: the Mariners have blown eight saves this year. That's just one behind the Redlegs, and they've been so bad that they're essentially making Rajai Davis look like the reigning AL MVP. I mean, the blown save is what it is, of course, but it still states a very important fact: the bullpen was handed a tenuous lead and it got away from them. Eight times.

It's worth noting that Seattle has had 16 more of these situations than the Reds.

Somewhat predictably, 40 year old Joel Peralta has given up a team worst .859 OPS against, allowing 5 home runs in 16.1 IP. He's striking out people at a rate of 12.1 per 9, but he's also giving up nearly 3 home runs per that stretch. What I'm saying is he'd fit right in with the Reds bullpen.

Otherwise, the Mariners 'pen is in good hands. Steve Cishek, overall, has been fine. His ERA sits at 2.95 with an ERA+ of 126. But, his status as closer is beginning to look tenuous after he blew two saves in a row last weekend. He's only been used once since.

The rest of the bullpen arms have gotten it done, and gotten it done well. Nick Vincent currently owns a 1.56 ERA and a shiny 0.75 WHIP through 17.1 innings pitched while owning a pretty stellar 10 SO/W. Not to be outdone, Vidal Nuno sports a 1.38/0.92 spot in 13 innings. Mike Montgomery has made his transition into the bullpen a nice an easy one. He's carried the most of the load, good for a 2.08 ERA in 21.2 innings.

Outlook

Honestly? Not looking great for the Redlegs. But, who knows? The Reds have been much better at home than on the road this year, while Iwakuma and Miley can get got if the Reds are on their game. It'll be tough to claw back many runs on the 'pen (if it's used properly), but if they can get to those two starters early and often, the Reds could be on to something.

The Mariners are hardly unbeatable. They've been swept by both Oakland and Anaheim thus far, both of who are cellar dwellers of the division.

On the other hand, Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager et al will get several cracks at the Reds bullpen when Alfredo Simon and likely at least one other starter this weekend fails to go more than 4 innings and, welp. If you like dingers on dingers, stay tuned.

Other Reading: Lookout Landing

Friend and former Red Reporter JinAZ's in-depth preview using numbers and other things that I'm way too dumb to do.