Archive for Baltimore Orioles
Despite last night’s win, the Yankees are still in the middle of a borderline disaster ten-game stretch that has seen them go just 2-4 in the first six games. Their big and comfortable AL East lead has disappeared and right now they’re just one game up with 26 to play. We’re used to the Yankees battling the Rays for the division crown, but the Orioles are new to the mix this season after 15 years of being non-competitive. Because of that recent history, it’s easy to write them off. Heck, I did it pretty much all season up until about two or three weeks ago.
In a lot of ways, these current Orioles are similar to the 2008 Rays, who just snuck up on everyone and became good all of a sudden. I think the young talent on that 2008 Tampa team — Evan Longoria, Jamie Shields, David Price, B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford , etc. — is way more impressive than what they have going on in Baltimore, but Buck Showalter has his team in the race in early-September and they deserve a ton of credit for that, even if Nate McLouth is batting third.
It’s obvious this four-game weekend series with the Orioles has enormous division title implications, but we can’t forget that the Rays are right there as well. They’re three back in the division, one good weekend from taking over first place. All three of the AL East contenders have different strengths and weaknesses, and yet they’re all essentially in the same position with roughly four weeks to go. The Yankees are fortunate that because they’re currently in the lead, they control their own destiny and theoretically don’t need help from anyone else.
Anyway, with a few hours to go before first pitch tonight, I figured it was a good time to see who you folks consider to be the biggest threat to the Bombers in the division race. Both the O’s and Rays are dangerous but I personally believe one of those two clubs is more dangerous than the other. You might feel differently, so let’s find out…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The calendar is about to flip over to September, and the Yankees are going to play a meaningful series against the Orioles this weekend. This is madness, I tell you. New York leads Baltimore by three games in the loss column, so this is the biggest series of the year to date. The Yankees have won six of eleven against this weekend’s opponent so far this season.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Orioles just took three of four from the White Sox in Camden Yards, including a 5-3 win yesterday that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. They outplayed the ChiSox massively. Baltimore has won five of their last six and they’re currently 72-58 with a -44 run differential. Fourth best record and third worst run differential in the league. Go figure.
At 4.2 runs per game with a team 91 wRC+, the O’s are a slightly below league average offense. Their best player all season has been Adam Jones (125 wRC+), who set a career-high yesterday with his 26th homer. He also leads the team with a dozen steals, so this is the guy the Yankees can’t let beat them.
Nick Markakis (123 wRC+) has been thriving in the leadoff spot while J.J. Hardy (73 wRC+) has been one of the least productive everyday players in the game this year from the two-hole. Batting third these days is Pirates castoff Nate McLouth (68 wRC+ in limited time) ahead of Jones while Matt Wieters (97 wRC+) bats fifth behind him. The rest of the lineup is filled out by mostly platoon types, including Chris Davis (111 wRC+ vs. RHP), Mark Reynolds (117 wRC+ vs. LHP), and Lew Ford (159 wRC+ vs. LHP in very limited time).
Omar Quintanilla (91 wRC+) has already hurt the Yankees on more than one occasion (with more than one team) this season, and he’s taken over everyday second base duties with Brian Roberts hurt again. Hotshot prospect Manny Machado (95 wRC+) hit two homers in his second game as a big leaguers and hasn’t done anything since. Utility men Robert Andino (61 wRC+) and Ryan Flaherty (50 wRC+) join backup catcher Taylor Teagarden (31 wRC+) on the bench. It’s a flawed but effective offense, similar to what the Yankees employ these days.
Friday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez
The 28-year-old Gonzalez shut the Yankees down for a few innings in his fifth big league starts a couple of weeks ago, but they rallied for a four runs late and he left the game after 6.2 innings. Gonzalez has pitched to a 3.66 ERA (4.94 FIP) in 66.1 innings this season, though his peripherals are underwhelming: 6.65 K/9 (17.6 K%), 3.39 BB/9 (9.0 BB%), and 33.3% grounders. He’s a low-90s fastball/mid-80s slider guy who will mix in the occasional low-80s changeup, so it’s pretty generic stuff. Hopefully the Yankees will make some adjustments after seeing him a few weeks ago and go to town.
Saturday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
The Yankees beat Chen in his first career big league start back in April, hanging four runs on him in 5.2 innings. He returned the favor with a 7 IP, 2 R outing a few weeks later. The 27-year-old Taiwanese-born southpaw has been rock solid this year, posting a 3.78 ERA (4.18 FIP) in 157 innings. His strikeout (7.45 K/9 and 19.6 K%) and walk (2.81 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%) rates are solid, though he is fly ball prone (38.5% grounders). Chen is primarily a three-pitch guy, using a low-90s four-seamer to setup his low-80s slider and changeup. He will throw a handful of loopy, low-70s curveball per start. Chen has no platoon split whatsoever and again, the Yankees need to build off what he showed them earlier this year.
Sunday: RHP David Phelps vs. RHP Chris Tillman
The Bombers have made a habit out of pounding Tillman in recent years, though he’s a different guy now. The 24-year-old has recovered from Missing Velocity Disease and owns a 3.26 ERA (4.08 FIP) in 58 innings since being recalled from Triple-A. Like Chen, the strikeout (7.29 K/9 and 19.3 K%) and walk (2.95 BB/9 and 7.8 BB%) rates are solid while the ground ball numbers (39.1%) could be better. The new version of Tillman — really the old version that just went missing for a few years — sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his four-seamer and cutter while also mixing in a low-80s changeup and an upper-70s curveball. The Yankees scored five runs in five innings off Tillman earlier this season, but he’s coming off seven one-hit innings against the high-power ChiSox.
Left-hander Zach Britton gave manager Buck Showalter eight strong innings yesterday, but both setup man Pedro Strop (3.24 FIP) and closer Jim Johnson (3.39 FIP) had to work in a hectic ninth. The Baltimore bullpen is completely fresh otherwise, with no relievers coming off back-to-back appearances or anything crazy like that.
Behind (or is it ahead of?) Strop and Johnson are former Yankee Luis Ayala (3.89 FIP) and right-handed specialist Darren O’Day (2.87 FIP). Former starter Brian Matusz (5.01 FIP) is now working out of the bullpen and once Randy Wolf (4.74 FIP) is activated today, Showalter will have a pair of southpaws who can go multiple innings at his disposal. Kevin Gregg (4.78 FIP) and the surprisingly effective Steve Johnson (3.60 FIP) round out the relief corps. With rosters expanding tomorrow, expect the Orioles to add a few more bullpen arms for the weekend.
The Yankees had Thursday off, so their bullpen is pretty fresh. Both David Robertson and Rafael Soriano have had two straight days off after working in three straight, so they should be available all weekend. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exactly usage details, and then check out Camden Crazies for the latest on the O’s.
Remember when Buck Showalter’s magic turned the Orioles into legitimate contenders? Since peaking at 27-14 in mid-May, Baltimore has gone 26-35 and sunk back into the middle of the AL East pack. They’re better than I thought they were coming into the season, but the O’s seem to have mastered the art of the hot start and midseason fade.
What Have They Done Lately?
The Orioles just lost two of three to those powerhouse Athletics and have lost five of seven overall. At 53-49, they are tied with the Rays for second place in the AL East, eight back of the Yankees in the loss column. Their -58 run differential is the fourth worst in the AL.
With an average of 4.2 runs per game, Baltimore somewhat surprisingly is a bottom five offense in the AL. I thought they were much better for some reason. Adam Jones (134 wRC+) has been their best player by a large margin this season, and he ranks ninth in the AL with 24 dingers. Nick Markakis (114 wRC+) provides solid support, and lately he’s been batting leadoff as Showalter tries to find someone to ignite the offense.
The Orioles added a big bat in Jim Thome (118 wRC+ vs. RHP), their regular DH against righties. They tend to rotate against lefties. J.J. Hardy (69 wRC+) and Matt Wieters (96 wRC+) fill out the top five of the lineup while Chris Davis (103 wRC+) and Wilson Betemit (93 wRC+) provide some depth at the bottom of the order. Baltimore just recalled Lew Ford (!) after he hadn’t appeared in the big leagues since 2007, and he went 0-for-3 with a walk in his first game yesterday. Can’t believe that guy is back in the show. Seriously.
The bench is filled out with the likes of backup catcher Taylor Teagarden (-18 wRC+ in limited action), infielder Ryan Flaherty (47 wRC+), and outfielder Endy Chavez (23 wRC+). The recently acquired Omar Quintanilla (124 wRC+ in limited time) is now playing second base regularly with Brian Roberts and Robert Andino both injured. The Orioles have hit the third most homers in baseball (127), so they’ll make you pay when you make a mistake.
Monday: RHP Freddy Garcia vs. RHP Miguel Gonzalez
A former Rule 5 Draft pick of the Red Sox, the 28-year-old Gonzalez has pitched to a 4.28 ERA (5.51 FIP) in four starts and three relief appearances since making his big league debut earlier this season. The strikeout rate is solid (7.49 K/9 and 19.1 K%), but the walk (4.28 BB/9 and 10.9 BB%), homer (1.60 HR/9), and ground ball (35.7%) rates all leave a lot to be desired. Gonzalez is a five-pitch guy, using low-90s fastballs (two and four-seamer) to setup his low-80s slider, low-80s changeup, and upper-70s curveball. The curve and two-seamer are scarcely used fourth and fifth offerings, however.
Tuesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Chris Tillman
The Yankees have seen an awful lot of Tillman through the years — they’ve tagged him for a .394/.468/.532 line in five career starts and he also surrendered the single that pushed Derek Jeter past Lou Gehrig for the franchise’s all-time hits record. He’s pitched to a shiny 1.77 ERA (3.35 FIP) in four starts since returning from Triple-A, with career best strikeout (7.06 K/9 and 18.3 K%) and homer (0.42 HR/9) rates. The walk (3.74 BB/9 and 9.7 BB%) and ground ball (36.4%) numbers are in line with his career norms. Tillman, 24, has gotten some velocity back and now sits in the low-to-mid-90s with the four-seamer. He also throws a low-80s cutter, a low-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. This isn’t the same guy we saw over the last few seasons.
Wednesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Zach Britton
After missing the start of the season with a shoulder issue, the 24-year-old Britton has pitched to a 5.74 ERA (5.82 FIP) in three starts since returning. He’s walked more batters than he’s struck out (11 BB and 8 K) with a dynamite 66.0% ground ball rate in just 15.2 innings. Britton’s break-and-butter is a power low-90s sinker that is legitimately one of the best sinkers in baseball. He’ll also mix in a four-seamer at the same velocity with the requisite low-80s slider and low-80s changeup. The Yankees saw Britton a few times last year, but there are only so many adjustments you can make against a sinker-slider type.
Although Wei-Yin Chen failed to complete six innings yesterday, the Orioles don’t have a single reliever who’s pitched in each of the last two days. Setup man Pedro Strop (3.46 FIP) and middle guy/former Yankee Luis Ayala (4.00 FIP) both threw an inning yesterday, as did righty specialist Darren O’Day (3.12 FIP). Lefty specialist Troy Patton (3.53 FIP) recorded an out as well. Closer Jim Johnson (3.83 FIP) hasn’t pitched since a massive meltdown two days ago, but he’ll be fine. He’s really good. Righties Kevin Gregg (4.31 FIP) and Matt Lindstrom (3.58 FIP) fill out the rest of the bullpen.
Despite the extra innings loss yesterday, the Yankees are in pretty good shape in the bullpen. Rafael Soriano has appeared in two straight games but only needed eight pitches last night. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for exact usage details, and check out Camden Crazies for some fantastic Orioles coverage.
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Via Eddie Encina, the Yankees have claimed infielder Matt Antonelli off waivers from the Orioles. Mark Feinsand confirms that he’ll head to Triple-A, and that Cesar Cabral was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot.
Antonelli, 27, was once a top prospect with the Padres and even cracked Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list back in 2008. He owns a .261 wOBA in 65 career big league plate appearances, all coming with San Diego a few years ago. Antonelli is a .234/.347/.361 career hitter in over 1,200 Triple-A plate appearances and posted a .308 wOBA at the level this year. He’s primarily a second baseman so I highly doubt he replaces Jayson Nix or anything. This seems like a move intended to replace depth in the minors for whenever Nix is cut loose, frankly.
It’s mid-May and yet the Yankees and Orioles are about to play for the third time. New York swept a three-game set in Baltimore for their first three wins of the season back in early-April before the O’s took two of three at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago. After this quick little two-game series in Camden Yards, these two clubs won’t play again until after the All-Star break.
What Have They Done Lately?
Two weeks ago the Orioles held the Yankees to a total of three runs in a three-game series. They’ve won six of ten since including two of three from the Rays this weekend. Baltimore lost yesterday but still sits atop the AL East with a 22-13 record. Their +15 is third best in the division and fourth best in the league.
The Orioles are a top-eight offense based on runs per game (4.66) and they actually lead all of baseball with 56 homers. Only 20 of those 56 homers have come with men on base though, thanks to a below average team OBP (.311). At 104 wRC+, the O’s have the eighth best offense in the game and fifth best in the AL so far this year.
Buck Showalter’s lineup is anchored by Adam Jones (146 wRC+) and Matt Wieters (147 wRC+), who drive in a ton of runs as the four-five hitters behind J.J. Hardy (103 wRC+) and Nick Markakis (119 wRC+). With Nolan Reimold (164 wRC+) on the DL, leadoff duties have rotated between Robert Andino (97 wRC+), Endy Chavez (-30 wRC+ (!)), and Rule 5 Draft pick/utility man Ryan Flaherty (14 wRC+). First baseman/emergency pitcher Chris Davis (114 wRC+) has done damage further down in the order but has cooled off a bit of late.
Former Yankees Nick Johnson (82 wRC+) and Wilson Betemit (101 wRC+) platoon at the DH spot, and with Mark Reynolds (85 wRC+) on the DL, rookie Steve Tolleson (two hits in seven plate appearances so far) has been manning third base. Bill Hall (a homer in four plate appearances) was recalled this past weekend and we could see him at the hot corner at some point as well. Another rookie, outfielder Xavier Avery (hitless in four plate appearances), was just called up for depth.
Monday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jason Hammel
Hammel, a former Devil Ray, held the Yankees to two runs in six innings two weeks ago but missed his last start with a sore knee. The swelling subsided and the fluid drained, so he’s good to go tonight. The 29-year-old right-hander has completely re-invented himself this year and the results are staggering. Hammel is missing bats (8.84 K/9 and 25.5 K%), limiting walks (2.56 BB/9 and 7.4 BB%), and generating ground balls (61.0%). It’s a remarkable turn around that can be attributed to a slight uptick in velocity plus increased usage of both his low-to-mid-90s two-seamer and mid-80s slider. Hammel also mixes in a low-to-mid-90s four-seamer, an upper-80s changeup, and an upper-70s curveball. The two fastballs and slider are his go-to weapons, the other two offerings just tag along for the ride. This isn’t necessarily a case of a pitcher having lots of success in a small sample, there are tangible reasons behind Hammel’s sudden and drastic improvement.
Tuesday: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Wei-Yin Chen
The Taiwanese-born Chen is off to a strong start in MLB, pitching to a 2.68 ERA (3.19 FIP) in 37 IP across six starts. His strikeout (6.81 K/9 and 17.5 K%) and ground ball (32.2%) rates aren’t great, but he does limit walks (2.92 BB/9 and 7.5 BB%) and hits in general (.282 BABIP). Chen sits right around 90 mph with both his two and four-seam fastballs, and his top offspeed pitch is a low-to-mid-80s splitter/changeup hybrid. He’ll also throw low-90s slider and on the rarest of occasions, a low-70s curveball. The Yankees hung four runs on Chen in his 5.2 IP season debut a few weeks ago, but he’s allowed more than two earned runs in just one of five starts since.
The Rays did the Yankees a favor by roughing up Baltimore’s bullpen this weekend. Jake Arrieta didn’t make it through four innings yesterday, forcing left-hander Troy Patton (4.39 FIP) to throw three innings and 52 pitches. He’s the only southpaw in their bullpen and chances are he won’t be available at all in this two-game set. Kevin Gregg (4.75 FIP) is their Freddy Garcia, meaning he’s so bad he only pitches when things look bleak. He threw 19 pitches yesterday after sitting in the bullpen for a week. Righty specialist Darren O’Day (3.36 FIP) threw eight pitches on Sunday and six on Friday, so he’s good to go.
Closer Jim Johnson (3.40 FIP) and setup man Pedro Strop (2.90 FIP) had each appeared in three straight games before getting yesterday off. Chances are both will be available tonight and tomorrow, but their recent workload has been intense. Former Yankee Luis Ayala (2.55 FIP) and the recently promoted Stu Pomeranz (no runs in four innings) are both fresh and ready to go. Joe Girardi‘s bullpen is pretty well-rested and I suspect everyone is available tonight. Check out our Bullpen Workload page for the exact recent usage. Camden Crazies is my Orioles blog of choice, so check it out.
After eight games and one rain delay against the beasts of the AL, the schedule lightens up a bit and the Yankees welcome the Orioles to the Bronx this evening. The Fightin’ Showalters played the Yankees tough earlier this month despite being swept, forcing them into a pair of extra-inning games.
What Have They Done Lately?
Believe it or not, the Orioles are on a roll right now. They scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth yesterday for a walk-off win against Bartolo Colon and the Athletics, their second straight win and sixth in their last seven games. Baltimore currently sits atop the AL East with a 14-8 record and a +13 run differential that ranks third in the league behind the Rangers and Yankees.
With 95 runs scored and an average of 4.32 runs per game, the Orioles rank 11th and 12th in the big leagues in offensive output, respectively. Their 99 wRC+ ranks 16th in the league and is exactly league average for all intents and purposes. They’ve been carried offensively by Adam Jones (166 wRC+) and Matt Wieters (152 wRC+), two young players that really stepped their game up in 2012. Wieters in particular has improved over the last season, jumping into the upper echelon of catchers.
Nolan Reimold (180 wRC+) missed a few games with a neck strain but is back just in time for this series. Chris Davis (153 wRC+) has been doing major damage so far, and he’s even managed to get his strikeout issues under control (22.7 K%). The always annoying Robert Andino (111 wRC+) is exactly that, always annoying. With him batting ninth, Baltimore has a nice 9-5 batting order with Andino, Reimold, J.J. Hardy (53 wRC+), Nick Markakis (93 wRC+), Jones, and Wieters.
The supporting cast hasn’t been all that great, with Mark Reynolds (35 wRC+) off to a slow start and the former Yankee DH platoon of Wilson Betemit (101 wRC+) and Nick Johnson (-49 wRC+) essentially cancelling each other out. None out outside of Jones will steal bases — he has four, the team has six total — but they will hit the ball out of the park. Baltimore ranks third in baseball with 30 dingers, with Reimold (five), Jones (six), and Wieters (six) doing most of the damage.
Monday: RHP Hiroki Kuroda vs. RHP Jason Hammel
Back in the AL after three years with the Rockies, Hammel is off to great start this season. The former (Devil) Ray has allowed no more than two runs in any of his four starts, completing at least six innings three times. His strikeout (8.65 K/9 and 24.8 K%) and ground ball (61.8%) rates are way off his career norms (6.33 K/9, 16.1 K% and 45.5 GB%) while his usually low walk rate (2.77 BB/9 and 7.9 BB%) has remained the same. Hammel has changed his pitch selection a bit, possibly explained the improved performance. He’s relying on his low-to-mid-90s two-seamer (40.5%) and mid-80s slider (24.6%) more than ever before while mixing in the occasional four-seamer and curveball. I’m very interested to see the new version of Hammel and whether or not this improvement is real. We do have some tangible evidence that it might be.
Tuesday: RHP Phil Hughes vs. LHP Brian Matusz
What an appropriate matchup. Two young phenoms who have pitched far below expectations and battled mysterious missing velocity disease last season. Like Hughes, Matusz’s velocity has returned but the performance is still awful. He’s allowed 17 runs in 20.2 IP this year with nearly as many walks (13) as strikeouts (14) and a 32.9% ground ball rate. He’s in the low-90s with his four-seamer and cutter, low-80s with the changeup and slider, and upper-70s with the curveball. The top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball as recently as two years ago, Matusz’s career has been derailed in a big way. The Yankees tagged him for four runs in four innings in his first start of the season a few weeks ago.
Wednesday: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Jake Arrieta
The de facto ace, Arrieta started the season well but got knocked around a bit in his last two starts. His strikeout (7.12 K/9 and 19.5 K%) and ground ball (37.9%) rates are in line with last season, though he has cut down on the walks in a big way (2.67 BB/9 and 7.3 BB%). That might have something to do with having bone chips removed from his elbow at the end of last season. Arrieta sits in the low-to-mid-90s with his four-seamer and sinker, backing them up with an upper-80s slider, upper-70s curveball, and mid-80s changeup. The changeup is just a show-me pitch, the two breaking balls are his go-to secondary offerings. The Yankees scored four runs in 6.2 IP off Arrieta a few weeks ago.
Showalter has had to use his bullpen quite a bit this season, though the Orioles’ relief corps has gotten a bit of a breather in recent days. Righty specialist Darren O’Day (2.49 FIP) and setup man Pedro Strop (3.18 FIP) threw 17 and 23 pitches each yesterday, respectively. Former Yankee Luis Ayala (2.68 FIP) threw two innings and 28 pitches on Saturday, the only reliever they needed that day.
Closer Jim Johnson (3.73 FIP) is back with the team after a four-day stint in the hospital with food poisoning. He hasn’t pitched in a game since last Sunday. Right-handers Matt Lindstrom (1.91 FIP) and Kevin Gregg (7.54 FIP) haven’t pitched since Friday, and neither has lefty Troy Patton (4.05 FIP). He’s more of a multi-inning guy than a specialist. Overall, the Baltimore bullpen owns a 3.38 FIP, right behind the Yankees (3.23 FIP) and third best in the AL.
Despite Freddy Garcia‘s five-out start on Saturday, the Yankees’ bullpen is in fine shape because CC Sabathia went eight innings yesterday. D.J. Mitchell was called up to take over as the long man after David Phelps was moved into the rotation. Garcia is now working out of the bullpen and is probably the only guy not available tonight. For the latest and greatest from B’more, we recommend Camden Crazies.
By now you’ve all read about the fact that the last time the Yankees went 0-3 to start a season was 1998, and we all of course know how that turned out; as well as the last time the Yankees were 0-3 and the Mets 3-0 1985; not to mention the last time both the Yankees and Red Sox started out 0-3 was 1966. This minutiae is important for your next trivia night at the bar, but for all intents and purposes, highly irrelevant.
Forget what you heard from the 2012 season’s first weekend. Three games are simply that — three games — and every team in baseball will lose three games in a row at some point during any given season. It just happens to be that much more magnified at the very start; no one like to see a zero in the win column for any longer than they have to. I happen to think the more interesting bit of trivia concerns when the Yankees last entered a set against the Orioles — currently 3-0 after feasting on the punchless Twins — trailing Baltimore by three games. As best I can tell the answers appear to be the morning of Monday, June 27, 2005, when Baltimore was in 2nd place (2.5 GB) and the Yankees were in third, four games behind the O’s.
In any event, the Yankees last saw Buck Showalter’s crew in early-September, finishing the season series off by playing a three-game set at Yankee Stadium (which the Yanks won, highlighted by Jesus Montero’s first career two-home-run game — and first two career home runs) and then a one-off back down in Camden Yards to make up for what many felt was a questionable postponement a week-and-a-half earlier. The Yankees played some pretty ugly baseball in losing both the game in Baltimore and the game prior by identical 5-4 scores in extra innings, though ultimately neither contest mattered much in the grand scheme of things.
On the whole, the Bombers have flat-out dominated Baltimore during the last decade-plus; since the advent of the unbalanced schedule, the Yankees have gone 135-67 (a .668 winning percentage) against the birds, which is just pure ownership. Of course, pretty much everyone in MLB has had their way with the O’s during this timeframe, who last finished above .500 fourteen seasons ago in 1997 and are coming off four-straight last-place finishes.
Last winter I thought Baltimore actually looked like a team on the rise, as the O’s appeared to have several promising young starting pitchers on the verge of breaking out and an offense that looked quite robust on paper. Alas, onetime-future-lefty-ace Brian Matusz took a massive step backwards; enigmatic-but-talented left-hander Zach Britton — currently on the shelf following plasma therapy and not expected to be ready to go until May at the earliest — got tarred and feathered before showing signs of starting to put it together near the end of the season; and Jake Arrieta had a rough year that saw him continue to feast on the Yankees but get eaten alive by everyone else. Incredibly ineffective starting pitching combined with a middling bullpen led the Orioles’ pitching staff to the worst collective ERA (4.92) and FIP (4.67) in the Majors last season. The offense also struggled, coming in at a below-league-average 97 wRC+.
Unfortunately for the O’s and their fans, things don’t appear to be getting much better for the franchise any time soon, as their very public search for a new general manager during the offseason saw them embarrassingly get turned down by qualified candidate after qualified candidate, until former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette agreed to take the reins after being out of professional baseball for nearly a decade. That the O’s had anywhere from a 0.5% to a 2.2% chance of making the postseason before they even played a single game in 2012 speaks volumes about where the franchise presently stands.
The lineup the 2012 O’s will send out against the Yankees features many of the same names as last year, with the only notable new faces coming in the person of former Bombers Wilson Betemit and Nick Johnson. Adam Jones and Matt Wieters make for a formidable one-two punch in the four-five slots while Mark Reynolds (2nd-highest HR/FB% in MLB last year) is always a home-run threat when he’s not busy striking out, but the remainder of the lineup is relatively uninspiring. J.J. Hardy had a nice season last year but needs to show he can do it again, while many have been waiting three years for Nick Markakis to replicate his breakout 2008 season to no avail. Still, while the O’s are a virtual lock for a fifth-straight last-place finish, this is still a team that’s going to score some runs and annoyingly win some ballgames it probably has no business winning.
In tonight’s opener the Yankees will send Ivan Nova, fresh off an ugly spring, to the hill against the lefty Matusz, who had a better spring than Nova (3.65 ERA in 24.2 IP) but still has a fair amount to prove after the pasting he took last year. Matusz is pretty close to being a classic slop-throwing lefty, but his average fastball is just over 90mph, so he’s not quite in Jason Vargas territory. His bread-and-butter is his change, which comes in ~8mph slower than his fastball and is his only above-average Whiff/Swing pitch. Matusz will also mix in a sinker (15% of the time), curve (11%) and slider (8%). The slider took a step backwards last year — as did basically his entire repertoire — but has been one of his better pitches despite relatively infrequent deployment.
Tomorrow night’s game features Freddy Garcia vs. former Nippon Professional Baseball player and MLB rookie Wei-Yin Chen. Chen, a Taiwanese left-hander who the O’s signed to a three-year deal with a club option this past winter, won the fifth starter slot in the O’s rotation thanks in part to a strong spring (3.60 ERA in 20 IP). Chen apparently throws a low-90s fastball, slider, splitter/forkball and curve. I really have no idea what to expect from Chen in his stateside debut, although I can’t think of too many lefties off the top of my head that feature a splitter, so I’ll be interested to see when and how he deploys that pitch.
And the Wednesday evening finale sees both teams’ rotations turn over as CC Sabathia takes on the aforementioned Arrieta. The righty Arrieta wasn’t quite as good against the Yankees last season as I made him out to be several paragraphs above (4.24 ERA over three starts), but they never seem to blow him out of the water, either. Arrieta features a very live fastball (avg. vel. 93.5mph) that he complements with a sinker (26% of the time), slider (16%), curveball (14%) and occasional change (9%). Arrieta didn’t exactly have an amazing spring (6.14 ERA in 14.2 IP) but still got the opening day nod from Showalter — a strong vote of confidence from his skipper considering cases could have been made for either Tommy Hunter or Jason Hammel. As it so happens, Arrieta rewarded his manager’s faith with seven shutout innings on Opening Day against Minnesota.
I know Mike and Joe historically haven’t offered predictions, but I’ve always enjoyed concluding my series previews with them. The easy call here is Yankees two out of three — I could see them losing one of the first two if Nova can’t shake off his rough spring or the Bombers decide its 2010 all over again and are unable to figure out the previously-unseen Chen, while Sabathia should make quick work of the O’s (who he’s gone 11-2 against as a Yankee) in the finale.
Last week we took a nice long look at the teams who figure to be the Yankees’ primary competition this season, meaning the Red Sox, Rays, Tigers, Angels, and Rangers. There are eight other clubs in the American League though, and the Yankees are going to play those eight teams quite a bit more than the five other contenders. Most of those eight teams aren’t very good, but every game counts the same.
Rather than doing a boring old offense/defense/pitching preview for each of those eight non-contenders, I decided to have a little fun with this one and put together some haikus. I encourage you to leave your own in the comments.
No pitching, few bats.
Buck is all talk and no bite.
Don’t dare dis Flanny!
Chicago White Sox
Rebuild or contend?
Kenny can’t seem to decide.
I wish we had Danks.
Some funny names,
Asdrubal and Ubaldo?
Not winning this year.
Kansas City Royals
Hosmer is the shizz.
Young pitching ain’t quite there yet.
Mauer and Morneau
Used to be really awesome.
Now they are broken.
Yoenis is here.
Trade all of the pitchers!
Where are the fans?
Felix is the man,
The rest of the team sucks.
I miss Montero.
Toronto Blue Jays
AA the best,
Until he gets Jeff Mathis.
New unis do rule.
Via Tim Kurkjian, the Orioles are close to hiring Dan Duquette to be their new GM. Yankees amateur scouting director Damon Oppenheimer was a candidate for the job, but Dan Connolly reports that the O’s never even set up an interview with him.
Duquette hasn’t been in MLB for nearly ten years now. He was GM of the Expos from 1991-1994, then GM of the Red Sox from 1994-2001. He should get a bunch of credit for building the 2004 World Series team, but he doesn’t because crediting Theo Epstein is a better story. Duquette was the guy that brought in Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Derek Lowe, Jason Varitek, and Johnny Damon. Anyway, hooray for keeping Oppenheimer.