9/6-9/9 Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Back in first: Yanks hold on for win over Rays
Poll: The Biggest Threat
(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty)

For the second time in the span of a week, the Yankees and Orioles will play their biggest series of the season against one another. Baltimore won two of three last weekend in Yankee Stadium and the season series is now knotted up at seven. For what it’s worth, the Yankees have won four of five in Camden Yards this season, but all five of those games were played way back in April and May.

What Have They Done Lately?

After the series in the Bronx last weekend, the Orioles went up to Toronto and took two of three from the Blue Jays. The O’s had won three straight prior to yesterday’s loss and have won nine of their last twelve overall. At 76-60 with a -21 run differential, Baltimore is one game back of the Yankees for the AL East lead. So yeah, these four games are huge.

Offense

(Brad White/Getty)

At 4.3 runs per game, the Orioles are an ever-so-slightly below league average offensive team. Their best player all season has been Adam Jones (126 wRC+), who leads the club with both 27 homers and 13 steals. Nick Markakis (126 wRC+) has really settled in as the leadoff hitter and Mark Reynolds (114 wRC+) has come on incredibly strong these last few weeks. You may remember his two two-homer games in the Bronx a week ago. Markakis isn’t as much of a power threat as the other two, but you can make a pretty strong argument that he is their best all-around hitter.

The rest of the everyday crew is highlighted by catcher and defensive whiz Matt Wieters (98 wRC+). Nate McLouth (65 wRC+) still hits third and J.J. Hardy (73 wRC+) is just ahead of him in the two-hole, then way down in the nine-spot is top prospect Manny Machado (107 wRC+). The various platoon bats include Chris Davis (113 wRC+ vs. RHP), Omar Quintanilla (94 wRC+ vs. RHP), Lew Ford (113 wRC+ vs. LHP), and former Yankee Wilson Betemit (113 wRC+ vs. RHP). Robert Andino (59 wRC+), Taylor Teagarden (27 wRC+), and Ryan Flaherty (50 wRC+) have been bench guys all season while the lot of September call-ups includes third catcher Luis Exposito, infielder Steve Tolleson, and outfielder Xavier Avery.

Pitching Matchups

Thursday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Jason Hammel
Hammel, 30, will be activated off the DL in time for tonight’s game after missing a little less than two months with a right knee injury. He made one five-inning rehab start last week and that’s it, but prior to that he was Baltimore’s best starter — 3.54 ERA (3.25 FIP) with career bests in the strikeout (8.73 K/9 and 23.1 K%), ground ball (53.6%), and homer (0.66 HR/9) departments. His walk rate (3.21 BB/9 and 8.5 BB%) is solid as well. Hammel reinvented himself as a low-to-mid-90s two-seamer/mid-80s slider pitcher following the offseason trade to the Orioles, though he’ll still throw four-seamers at the same velocity as the two-seamer with some upper-70s curveballs and a handful of upper-80s changeups mixed in as well. He had one good (two runs in six innings) and one bad (five runs in five innings) start against New York prior earlier this season.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Friday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
The Yankees saw the 27-year-old Taiwanese southpaw just last week, when he held them to four runs in 6.2 innings after dominating the early innings. That was the one game the Bombers won in the series. Otherwise, Chen has been rock solid in his inaugural MLB season, pitching to a 3.79 ERA (4.21 FIP) in 163.2 innings. His peripherals — 7.37 K/9 (19.5 K%), 2.80 BB/9 (7.4 BB%), 38.1% grounders — are more solid than stellar, but there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Chen, as you might remember from last week, is a low-90s four-seamer guy who mixes in a low-80s slider to lefties and a low-80s changeup to righties. The Yankees have seen him three times already this year, so the element of surprise should be gone by now.

Saturday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Joe Saunders
If you believe some of the things being written these days, the Orioles acquired Saunders for the sole purpose of combating the suck-against-lefties Yankees. The 31-year-old has had one good (6.1 scoreless innings) and one terrible (seven runs in 5.1 innings) start with Baltimore, and overall has pitched to a 4.26 ERA (4.11 FIP) in 141.2 innings this summer. Saunders current owns his best strikeout (6.04 K/9 and 15.6 K%) and walk (2.22 BB/9 and 5.7 BB%) rates since becoming a full-time starter, though his 42.9% ground ball rate is a career-low. He’s a four-pitch guy, using a pair of upper-80s fastballs (two- and four-seamers) to setup his low-80s changeup and mid-80s slider. It’s worth noting that Saunders has one of, if not the largest platoon split among all qualified starters — he’s held same-side hitters to a measly .218 wOBA while righties have tagged him for a .358 wOBA. That .140-point difference is pretty much the difference between Robinson Cano and Chris Stewart, just for some perspective. It’s massive, so the right-handers are going to have to step up in this one.

Sunday: LHP Zach Britton vs. RHP Freddy Garcia
It’s pretty amazing that these two teams played three games last weekend and will play another four this weekend, yet Chen is the only starter the Yankees will see in both series. Britton, 24, came off the DL in mid-July and has been absolutely stellar after taking about four weeks to settle in. Across his last four starts (28.2 IP), he’s allowed just three total runs on 21 hits and seven walks against 29 strikeouts. He wasn’t a two-time Baseball America Top 100 Prospect by accident.

Anyway, Britton owns a deceivingly high 4.15 ERA (3.97 FIP) and is typically much more about ground balls (60.6%) than strikeouts (7.96 K/9 and 20.3 K%). His walk rate (3.98 BB/9 and 10.1 BB%) seems high given his recent performance, but he was never exactly a control machine in the past anyway. A bowling ball low-90s two-seamer is his bread-and-butter pitch, though Britton will also use a four-seamer at the same velocity and a low-80s slider to lefties. Righties will see the occasional mid-80s changeup. As good as Hammel and Chen have been this year, this is the game that I think will be the toughest for the Yankees. Britton can be really, really good.

(Dave Reginek/Getty)

Bullpen Status
Expanded rosters and some lengthy starts this week means manager Buck Showalter has an awful lot of fresh arms at his disposal. Closer Jim Johnson (3.36 FIP) and setup man Pedro Strop (3.28 FIP) have both had two consecutive days off, and given the enormity of this series, I would guess that will be available in all four games if needed. Right-handed specialist Darren O’Day (2.91 FIP) has had three days off and he’s another guy we could see four times this weekend if push comes to shove.

Showalter’s three left-handed relievers are Zach Phillips (13.31 FIP in very limited time), scuffling former top prospect Brian Matusz (5.03 FIP), and veteran hanger-on Randy Wolf (5.03 FIP). Other bullpen regulars include former Yankee Luis Ayala (3.90 FIP) and Kevin Gregg (4.70 FIP) while the other two September call-ups are former starter Tommy Hunter (6.17 FIP) and Steve Johnson (3.61 FIP in limited time). Ayala, Matusz, and Hunter all made brief appearances yesterday, so like I said, lots of fresh arms for Showalter coming into the series.

Joe Girardi used his top three relievers to nail down yesterday’s win, including David Robertson for four outs. Neither he nor Boone Logan and Rafael Doriano threw a ton of pitches, so all three will be available again tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact recent reliever usage, then check out my personal favorite Orioles blog Camden Crazies.

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Back in first: Yanks hold on for win over Rays
Poll: The Biggest Threat
  • Syrio Forel

    We need Teixera back with all these lefties. I don’t think we can count on Martin to carry us like he did last night. The offense as a whole needs to come alive and crush the Os pitching like old times if they’re to take 3/4.

    • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

      Nunez will spark us. We will play with fire and intensity this weekend.

      • your mom

        Or he will misplay and misfire on a throw to first which will spark a Baltimore rally which in turn will intensely piss me off.

        • Syrio Forel

          It doesn’t seem like Joe will play him in the field as he’s been playing Nix at 2nd for Robbie the past 2 games. If Teixera and Robbie can play the field then maybe they’ll DH Nunez a game or two this series.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          The equally-as-likely scenario.

      • http://www.twitter.com/_swarlesbarkley Drew

        Not sure if this was serious or not…

  • DERP

    The first game against Hammel was Rivera’s last game.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I’m at a loss for analysis or “what the team has to do” type stuff. The team has to win ballgames and lots of them, no matter who is on the field.

    Out.

    • MannyGeee

      You complete me, Tilapia. Just win, baby!

      • Robinson Tilapia

        I mean, what the fuck else is there to say? I don’t care how they do it, or who does it at this point. If it’s Sam Pearce, then go win me some fucking ballgames, Sam Pearce.

        I may ignore them again tonight in favor of the DNC. It worked like a charm last night.

  • DERP

    Let’s just win tonight and ruin Cal Ripken statue night and Hammel’s return.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      +1,000,000

    • Andruw’s Smile

      And dont forget #disrespectflanny

  • Jose M. Vazquez

    A win is a win no matter how you get it. We must start to play with more intensity. We must play like Yankees. The last two games we won were really handed to us. I expect no less than 3 out of 4. My only doubt is the Garcia game on Sunday. He has not looked well for a long time.

  • Johnny O

    I know Baltimore’s not a bad team, but still not sure how they’re this good with that roster and -21 run differential.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Me either. Nothing still sticks out other than a small core of really good young players, some pitchers sort-of living up to their potential, and a whole lot of patchwork going the right way. At this point, though, it is what it is.

    • DSFC

      They’re extraordinarily lucky, for one thing. Might sound like sour grapes, but you can’t be 16 games over .500 while being outscored by 21 runs over the course of the season without a ton of luck. They also have an excellent bullpen. Unless they have some major improvements next season, though, I bet they lose 80+ games in 2013.

    • jjyank

      I guess a lot of luck. Luck doesn’t always correct within a single season, shit happens and that luck could end up spanning the entire 6 month season. I still don’t fear them as a long term rival yet, though.

      That being said, the Yanks need to show them up this weekend.

      • Kosmo

        Luck = Buck a very good M.

        • thenamestsam

          Buck is a good manager but that doesn’t explain exceeding your Pythagorean win-loss by this much. Last year the O’s were basically right at their pythag. In Buck’s last full year as a manager before that, in 2006, the Rangers were much worse than their pythag. Buck isn’t some magical close-game winning machine.

          • Kramerica Industries

            And it’s true that having a solid 8/9 duo like Baltimore has can certainly help them in close games.

            But 24-7 in one run ballgames, and 12 straight wins in extra innings? They’ve only lost in extras twice this year – twice to the Yankees, in the second series of the season.

            • Robinson Tilapia

              Yes, it’s something and, yes, he’s seemed to pull the right strings with a club with not a lot of stable parts. Still, though, he’s not the one executing out there. At some point, the breaks go the other way. That just may not be in 2012.

              We’re now all changing our tune to “they can’t possibly do this again next year.”

              • Jim Is Bored

                But they’re roster is extremely different now than it was early in the year.

                To illustrate an extreme example, it would be silly to use RD if a team had a 100% roster turnover between april and august. The O’s are no longer starting Eveland, Hunter, Matusz and Arrieta, who account for something like -50 of that RD. Reynolds is a different player than he was early in the season. Machado is a massive defensive upgrade at 3rd. Markakis is healthy.

                They have been lucky, sure. But not nearly as lucky as one would think purely by looking at their run differential.

                • Jim Is Bored

                  guh. their*

          • Kosmo

            I didn´t say he was a “MC-GWM“ but he has to me maximized the talent level he more or less inherited. August was to Baltimore what June was to NY. The Birds got great pitching in August. I know the pyth. is way out of wack, isn´t it like 10 games or something ? It is what it is.

    • Jim Is Bored

      They’re a much different team in the 2nd half. They were ridiculously lucky the first 3 months, but their post-asb record and run diff are pretty closely in line.

  • GIo

    “13 steaks”. Guessing you meant “13 steals” or “69 steaks”.

  • Carl G

    Typo alert:

    “At 4.3 runs per game, the Orioles are an ever-so-slightly below league average offensive team. Their best player all season has been Adam Jones (126 wRC+), who leads the club with both 27 homers and 13 steaks”

    Mmm, steak

    • jjyank

      If any of those steaks are medium-rare, Adam Jones better share one with me.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Cook the umps a nice steak = the key to victory.

    • MannyGeee

      #FlannyLovedSteaks

  • Alkaline

    Just.Win.

  • viridiana

    Is it just me or is Buck beginning to look like Earl Weaver?

    • dkidd

      uncanny

      photoshop out the mullet and it’s earl

  • Alkaline

    Also, I’ll have to read the game thread from last night. I imagine it was quite the Jekyll/Hyde story.

  • blake

    If Mark Reynolds could go back to sucking in this series that would be helpful

  • dkidd

    beat them like omar beat stringer

    • pat

      We’ll get their best friend to betray him?

      • dkidd

        it’s all in the game, baby

  • Betty Lizard

    I did my part. I jilted Russell Martin and he’s batting over .200.

    More I cannot do.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Jilt Ichiro. Take one for the team.

      • Betty Lizard

        Oh lord. All of them? ALL of them? No lusting after Ichiro, Kuroda, Rodriguez, Robbie’s smile, Tex’s butt (which should have its own position) . . . All of them?

        OK. For the team. But I’m keeping Dante Bichette, Jr.

    • MannyGeee

      how about jilting the rest of the offense and bullpen… couldn’t hurt!

  • http://thecarsboneblog.tumblr.com Raul Ibanez AKA Tom Marvolo Riddle

    This is going to sound ridiculous, and I’m not even sure why I feel this way, but I still don’t respect Baltimore as a good team. Nothing about them screams over the top good, apart from Adam Jones, Markakis, and Weiters I really don’t think they are that good of a baseball team. We are also not great, but for whatever reason, I don’t fear the Orioles the same way I fear the Rays, Tigers, or even the Angels.

    • Jim Is Bored

      They don’t stand out anywhere, but they’re not weak anywhere either, since the ASB at least.

      Average offense, above average starters, high end bullpen, much improved defense. Don’t sleep on them. I certainly doubt the Yanks will.

  • mick taylor

    prediction; the remaining games will be pressure filled pennant race, which means nick swisher will choke the rest of the way. he simply has proven he cannot hit in pressure games, playoff games. i hope the yanks let him walk at the end of the season.

  • The Moral Majority is Neither

    Phelps becomes a True Yankee tonight.

  • DERP

    What happened to Matt Wieters? Why is he so bad at hitting?

  • Robert

    I see Texas called up a 19yr old Jurickson Profar who hit a HR in his 1st AB. Yanks still only team in the Majors with out a rookie AB this year….. We must get younger next year….

    • CUYanks

      And Ron Washington still would rather start Michael Young at SS. If you want to see a terrible manager, look no further than Texas.

      • MannyGeee

        you pass a lot of bad managers from here to Texas…

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

        I came to the conclusion a few years ago that every manager sucks, just that some suck less than others. There isn’t a fanbase in the game with a consensus that thinks they have a great manager.

        • Jim Is Bored

          Actually Buck is pretty damn popular around Baltimore right now. If anyone has that consensus, it’s orioles fans.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Pretty easy to ride that wave right now, though.

            • Jim Is Bored

              Didn’t say it was difficult, just pointing out that there is a fanbase with a consensus that they have a great manager.

              I live in the baltimore area, it’s impossible to find anyone who doesn’t love Buck.

              Of course, if the O’s are the O’s of 98-2011 again next year, Buck will no longer be as popular.

              • DSFC

                If? You mean “…WHEN the Os are the Os of 1998-2011 again next year…”

        • CUYanks

          I pretty much agree, though I find several particularly egregiously bad, with Ron Washington at the head of the line.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          This.

        • http://stoogazzo@comcast.net Tom Morea

          That’s very true, Mike, and I can’t disagree with you about some being worse than others. However, there comes a time during the course of a very long season where the manager has to deviate from his made in- stone convictions.Case in point with the Yankees, swinging from the heels for the long ball. You are not going to get the long ball consistently with the better pitchers you face. So,what you would consider a better type manager, not being the worse, to make adjustments; try hitting and running or occasional bunting. But if the manager is just focused on Cybermetrics, it just does not work, because I feel baseball is not an exact science.

  • mt

    Given how yanks are playing (have won only 2 out of 6 games against ouyr closest rivals because of unusual defensive errors – no one came through with the big hit to win the game), the 3 lefty starters Orioles will start against us, Garcia is still pitching and lack of confidence that CC will make his ususl dominating start against O’s, I would think Yankee Universe should be thrilled with 2 out of 4. Winning 3 out of 4 would mean that we are back – nothing about Tampa series showed me we are back – Jeter great game and Andruw Jones one base hit nothwithstanding, Swisher and Grandy still look completely lost and Tex’s return is unceratin (he has not run and tested calf yet.). I would be thrilled with 2 out of 4, keeping our slim lead but knocking 4 games off scheule.

  • dkidd

    please join the game thread tonight

    intelligent discourse is rare these days

    • dkidd

      too late

      he was banished to the land of wind and ghosts

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Duhinningsville.

      • DC

        Who got banished?

  • Kosmo

    Orioles are on a nice 9-3 run getting by on the strength of their pitching staff. They are 24-7 in 1-run games this season. It looks to me like Showalter is going with a 6-man starting rotation ?

    Good time for NY to start schooling this upstart team.

    • Jim Is Bored

      They’ve also been hitting better lately. Mostly thanks to Reynolds.