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We’ll start this shortly before 2:30 p.m. Hurricane Irene coverage for Second Ave. Sagas has forced me to push this back a bit. Apologies.

Series Preview: Yanks at Orioles

This one could get messy. Everyone knows the forecast in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast this weekend, so it stands to reason that the Yanks and Orioles will get washed out of two, maybe three games. Or this could just be weather services overblowing the worst case scenario and we’ll get only one rainout. Whatever the case, they aren’t playing five games in this series. But we’ll go ahead and preview all of them anyway.

What Have the Orioles Done Lately?

The Orioles are actually riding a four-game winning streak into this series. Of course, all four of those wins came against Minnesota, and we all saw how the Twins fared against non-Burnett pitching last weekend. Before that Baltimore had lost five in a row, so they’re pretty much doing now what they’ve done all season. They’re 10-14 in August.

Orioles on Offense

Despite their horrible record Baltimore actually has a middle of the road offense. They rank eighth in the AL with a 96 wRC+, so they’re sniffing league average. Of course, that’s good for last in the AL East, which only begins to describe their woes both now and in the future.

Two up-the-middle players have led the Orioles on offense. Adam Jones has remained healthy all year and has started living up to his potential this year, hitting .294/.331/.485, good for a 121 wRC+. J.J. Hardy has spent time on the DL — surprise, surprise — but he has been mashing the ball while healthy, sporting a .275/.317/.509 line. That includes 24 homers, which is just second on the team to Mark Reynolds. After a slow start Reynolds, too, has been mashing baseballs. His .220 average holds him back from being an elite player, but he takes his walks and when he does hit a ball he hits it far. These three are really the only above-average threats the Orioles have on offense.

Beyond those three, the only Oriole hitting for decent power is Nolan Reimold. He’s essentially been Reynolds Lite in his time this year, hitting for a low average, a slightly lower walk rate, and lower power. But he’s in the same mold. Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis have been slightly above average this year, but still haven’t lived up to expectations. Markakis in particular has been disappointing. What happened to the All-Star right fielder?

Beyond these guys the Orioles lineup is pretty bleak. Vlad Guerrero, Robert Andino, Jake Fox — it all makes for a not so palatable bottom of the lineup. That is, it should make for a not so palatable bottom of the lineup; Vlad continues to hit in the middle, much to the delight of opposing pitching staffs.

Orioles on the Mound

This will absolutely change depending on how the rain affects the series.

Friday: RHP Tommy Hunter. Yankees fans might remember Hunter from his time with the Rangers. He pitched decently in his one start against the Yanks last year, striking out eight in five innings while allowing two runs. He’s missed them this year, and now faces them in the midst of quite a terrible stretch. Since coming to Baltimore he’s started four times and allowed fewer than four runs just once. Last time out the Angels tagged him for six runs in 6.1 innings, and he strick out none in the game. He’s always been a low-K guy, but this year it has been quite ridiculous. He has just 16 in 40 innings, though he has walked only six. He’s also allowed just two homers, but hey, he hasn’t yet faced the team that hits too many of them.

Saturday: LHP Brian Matusz. It hasn’t been a fun season for Matusz. He started off on the DL, and when he came off he got absolutely rocked. With an 8.7 ERA through six starts in June, the Orioles sent him back to AAA. He recently came back up and has been rocked in two starts, going 10.2 IP, 17 H, 12 R, 4 BB, 7 K. Again, he’s missed the Yankees in all these dealings. This game almost has a reverse lock feeling to it: one of the worse pitchers in the league against the best offense.

Saturday: LHP Zach Britton. Early in the season Britton was looking like an AL Rookie of the Year Award candidate, but a few poor starts hurt him there. The Orioles actually optioned him after the Red Sox laid into him in early July. They then recalled him later in July for a doubleheader against the Yankees, and the Yanks knocked him around for nine runs in just a third of an inning. He’s bounced back in his last two starts, but hasn’t completed six innings since June 22nd. Again, the Yanks should beat both of these guys’ brains in for the doubleheader, but I suspect that one of them will pitch a gem.

Sunday: RHP Alfredo Simon. Simon got a late start to the season thanks to the whole facing murder charges thing. Since his return he has pitched both in relief and in the rotation, though the Orioles apparently think he’s a reliever in the long term. All in all he hasn’t fared too poorly, keeping his walk rate in check. His strikeout rate is below average, though, and he’s been knocked around a bit against non-Minnesota offenses. As a starter he has a 4.17 ERA, though also has a .816 opponent OPS against.

Monday: RHP Jeremy Guthrie. Yankees fans are plenty familiar with Guthrie. He’s been an AL East staple since 2007, and this year he’s been basically the same pitcher as always. His FIP matches up with his ERA (mid-4s), and he’s not striking guys out while allowing his share of homers. He’s started just one game against the Yankees and did very well, lasting seven innings and allowing just one run. He also pitched a perfect inning in relief against them back in May. Might it be time for a pounding?

Bullpen: As if the Orioles rotation weren’t bad enough, they also have a well below average bullpen. It ranks 27th in the majors with a 4.26 FIP and 4.23 ERA. Jim Johnson is the standout here, and it appears his long-term prospects are in the rotation*. Remember, too, that they traded Koji Uehara, who was their best reliever by far. Now they’ve got a ragtag bunch that has gotten mostly killed this year. Again, it’s little surprise how poorly they’ve fared in 2011.

*I fail to see how this will work. Dude has a below strikeout rate in the bullpen, despite throwing in the mid- to high-90s. He seems like the kind of guy who would get crushed the second time through.

Recommended Orioles Reading: Camden Crazies

Tickets: As always, TiqIQ and RAB Tickets have you covered. Check out what’s available for the series right here.

Mailbag: Offense, Soriano, Nova, Pitching, Situational Hitting

Travis asks: How does this NY Yankee team (lineup and rotation/bullpen) stack up against the 2009 team? I feel like this team is better, which makes it also feel like the other American League teams are getting better, but at a quicker pace.

In terms of hitting relative to the league — which is really the only thing that matters — the 2011 Yankees are a bit better than the 2009 team. They have a 121 wRC+ (21 percent better than league average), while the 2009 team had a 118 wRC+. Of course, the 2009 team also did that in a whole 162-game season, while the 2011 season is still playing out. By the end I expect they’ll end up in a similar spot.

It might not be that the AL is getting better. The run environment is much lower this season. Since fewer runs have scored overall, things might seem a bit closer. Regardless, the Yankees do have a top two offense in the league. The only real difference is that Boston has an offense that’s just as good. That was missing in ’09.

The real difference comes from the pitching staff. In 2009 they had a 4.28 ERA and 4.32 FIP, and had the seventh lowest runs allowed per game. In 2011 they have a 3.64 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and have the third lowest runs allowed per game. So even after adjusting for the lower run environment, they’re still out-pitching the 2009 team by a decent margin.

Paul asks: What are the chances Soriano decides he doesn’t want to be the 7th inning guy next year and opts out? How bad would that really be, considering what he gets paid (yes, he is obviously talented)?

I’d put his opt-out chances at slim to nil. Not only does he now have another injury red flag, but he has the two more expensive years of his contract ahead. That is, he’s made $10 million this year and would be leaving $25 million on the table by opting out. Could he do better than 2/25 on the open market? There’s a decent free agent class of closers, including Heath Bell and K-Rod, but the more I look at it the more I’m convinced that Soriano would be a better option than them. But they’d have to know they could get more than $25 million, and I don’t think that’s guaranteed right now. Expect Soriano in pinstripes next year.

John asks: Can Ivan Nova win the Rookie of the Year?

Stephen actually covered Ivan Nova’s chances at the AL Rookie of the Year Award this past weekend. Make sure to give that article a read. He has quality numbers, sure, but the wins are really the thing that the voters will focus on. There are some more deserving candidates, in my opinion. But if Nova pitches well down the stretch and ends with 17 or 18 wins, the old school voters could place his name atop the ballot.

Biggie asks: With Weaver off the board who do you prefer coming out of the 2012 class?

I’ve always been a big fan of John Danks. It’s hard not to think of Andy Pettitte when watching him, and it’s always palatable to have a lefty in Yankee Stadium. Cole Hamels is another swell option, not only because he’s a lefty but because he’s a lefty with good control and excellent strikeout numbers. The class kind of fades a bit from there. The Yanks probably won’t consider Zack Greinke, and Matt Cain allows a few too many fly balls for comfort (and wouldn’t have the spacious confines of AT&T Park to aid him).

Ranking them in terms of desire, I’d probably go Hamels, Danks, Cain, Greinke. I suspect at least two will have signed extensions by then, though.

Paul asks: The Yankees are seemingly historically bad at small-balling in a run from 3rd with 0 or 1 outs. How bad are they really?

This notion, I suspect, is merely frustration from the first two games in the series. Entering play yesterday the Yankees were hitting .356/.362/.663 with a runner on third and less than two outs, with 44 sac flies. That OPS is the best in the league, and the 44 sac flies is second best. With a runner on third and two outs the Yankees are hitting .314/.406/.522, again leading the league in OPS (by a wide margin). They also lead in batting average in those situations, by 40 points.

In other words, the Yankees are absolutely stellar when a man stands on third base, regardless of how many outs there are. And, again, that doesn’t even count yesterday’s game. (Baseball-Reference hadn’t updated when I did this, and plus it’s awesome to see the numbers before yesterday, anyway.)

Willie asks: With Tabatha getting a new contract, can we use his value to see what an extension for Brett Gardner would be worth?

The two aren’t really comparable, because of service time. Tabata didn’t come up until mid-2010, and so has a few more reserve clause years before he even hits arbitration. Gardner, on the other hand, will reach arbitration after this season, so he will necessarily make more than Tabata. As Mike mentioned in a previous mailbag, Gardner might not make a lot in an arbitration hearing. I’m not sure if that favors the Yankees signing him to an extension or letting him go year-to-year.

Giants slam Raiders 22-9

At around 6 p.m., I had to leave my apartment in Brooklyn to head to Manhattan for the evening. When I left the house, the Yankees had just begun their half of the 7th inning. Already, the team had hit two grand slams to overcome a 7-1 deficit, and they weren’t finished. So in the amount of time it took me to walk to the 7th Ave. stop, take the Q to Herald Square and walk to the bar, the Yanks didn’t even finish their half of the 7th. It was one of those games that ended with a football score, and to think that a few hours earlier, we had been bemoaning the Yanks’ lack of hitting with a runner on third and less than two outs.

The good in this game far outweighed the bad. The Yanks set a Major League record with three grand slams in one game. They went 10 for 21 with runners in scoring position. They walked 12 times in three innings. They mashed away two games worth of frustrating losses to a mediocre Oakland club, and Derek Jeter boosted his average to the .300 mark for a few innings. And to think I was rooting for a rainout in the third inning. That should teach me a lesson.

For the Yankees, it’s tough to pick a true hero. Russell Martin‘s grand slam — his second longball of the day — gave the Yanks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and it was one of the better comebacks of the season. We’ll get to Phil Hughes in a minute, but after being down 7-1, I had nearly given up on the game. I couldn’t shut the TV, and my personal perseverance paid off. Martin, by the way, finished the game 5 for 5 with 6 RBI and is now hitting .243/.332/.429 with 17 HR. If he can shake off his mid-season slump and finish strong, the Yanks will be thrilled. Robinson Cano‘s grand slam brought the team back into the game, and Curtis Granderson‘s was the icing on the cake.

There were, of course, a few negatives. Despite his 3 for 6 day, Jeter, who may have broken up with Minka Kelly, stranded nine runners. Mark Teixeira failed to pick up a hit and seems mired in a slump. Brett Gardner left the bases loaded twice, and Joe Girardi probably should have pinch hit for him in the 5th with lefty Craig Breslow on the mound and Andruw Jones on the bench. Those bumps seemed minor when the dust settled four and a half hours after this marathon began.

That’s mostly just nitpicking though. The true negative was Phil Hughes. He couldn’t last the third, and through the first 1.2 innings, he had thrown 50 pitches with just one swing-and-miss strike. He was sitting in the low 90s again with no out pitch and no real strike pitch either. He ended up striking out five in 2.2 innings, but he also allowed six runs on seven hits. Cory Wade allowed both inherited runners to score, but after Hughes’ solid outing against the Twins, this was a clear step back.

So the Yanks’ bats work. After two and a half games of frustration, they overcame the demons of driving in runners from third with less than two outs. They pounded a vulnerable pitching staff and did what we expected them to do all along. Of course, their starting rotation remains in flux, and their starters’ ERA in August is well over 5. At some point, someone will have to step up to be that second starter behind CC Sabathia, but if the bats are going to explode more often than not, the starters don’t need to be quite that good yet. It was a very good day.

For more on this ridiculous game, check out Chad Jennings’ recap. He has a great slew of notes from this game. Also, props to Boone Logan for holding down the A’s at a key moment. He recorded four outs and all by the strike out. His work was overshadowed by the offensive explosion, but he earned that win today. Also, Jorge Posada at second base. That’s a good one.

Montero’s two bombs power Scranton

Thanks to RobertJGreco on Twitter, we have video of Jesus Montero‘s two bombs. One is embedded above; here’s number two.

Triple-A Scranton (4-1 win over Rochester)
Chris Dickerson, CF: 3 for 5, 1 R, 1 K – 7 for his last 17. (.412)
Kevin Russo, 2B, Mike Lamb, 1B: 1 for 4 – Lamb K’d once.
Jesus Montero, C: 2 for 3, 2 HR’s, 4 RBI, 1 BB, 1 K – No grand slam? He must be bored. 7 for his last 18 (.389) with 2 doubles and 4 home runs, boosting his home run total to 17 on the season. This is the perfect time to get hot, and his OPS for August is well over .900.
Brandon Laird, 3B, Doug Bernier, SS: 0 for 4
Jordan Parraz, RF, Raymond Kruml, LF, Gustavo Molina, DH: 0 for 3, 1 BB – Kruml K’d once, and Parraz twice.
DJ Mitchell, RHP: 6.2 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K’s, 9-3 GO/FO – 70 of his 106 pitches were strikes.
Scott Proctor, RHP: 1.1 IP, 2 K’s, zeroes
Kevin Whelan, RHP: 1.0 IP, 2 K’s, zeroes
[Read more…]