Archive for Baltimore Orioles
Man, the Orioles again? All these games against the Fightin’ Showalters would be annoying if they were any good. But they’re not, so I’ll live. I suspect there aren’t many of you out there reading this on the holiday, plus we’re all familiar with the Orioles by now, so I’ll keep it short.
What Have The Orioles Done Lately?
Since splitting that impromptu four-game series around Hurricane Irene with the Yankees last weekend, the Orioles have lost two of three to both the Blue Jays and Rays. They got spanked 8-1 yesterday and have allowed six or more runs in four of their last five games. Baltimore is 55-83 on the season with a -150 run differential, second worst in baseball behind the Astros. To make matters worse, they’ve already been eliminated from playoff contention. Not even a glimmer of hope anymore.
Orioles On Offense
Their two best hitters over the last two weeks or so have been Matt Wieters (.268/.331/.439 on the year) and Mark Reynolds (.221/.320/.476), who are both sporting .400+ wOBA‘s over the last two weeks. J.J. Hardy (.269/.308/.499), Nick Markakis (.279/.339/.397), Nolan Reimold (.230/.297/.399), and Ryan Adams (.261/.320/.319.) have each chipped in as well, but they’ve hardly been stellar. Vlad Guerrero (276/.307.396) and Adam Jones (.286/.324/.476) have both been slumping big time, and Jones has been banged up as late. It’s the same below-average offense we’ve seen all year, but they do have a few guys that can really hurt you if you make a mistake.
Orioles On The Mound
Jo-Jo Reyes Brian Matusz (vs. Freddy Garcia): The Yankees, especially Andruw Jones, have simply crushed Reyes this year. We’re talking a dozen runs in 8.1 IP across two starts, and Jones has taken him deep four times total (twice in each game). That’s what happens when you can’t miss bats (5.29 K/9) and come at the Yankees with a high-80′s fastball and two offspeed pitches (change and slider) that don’t fool anyone.
Apparently Matusz is starting, not Reyes. The Yankees bombed him for three homers and six runs in 5.1 IP last week, and he doesn’t throw as hard as he once did. Boom.
Tuesday, RHP Tommy Hunter (vs. Phil Hughes): We all know Hunter from the various Yankees-Rangers battles last season, and last week he held New York to a four runs (on three homers) in seven innings. His underlying performance this season is … interesting: 3.91 K/9, 1.19 BB/9, and 44.3% grounders. Hunter works with a low-90′s fastball, a mid-80′s cutter, and a high-70′s curve.
Wednesday, LHP Zach Britton (vs. A.J. Burnett): Britton has either been really really good against the Yankees, or really really bad. He held them to one unearned run over seven innings in his first start, gave up nine runs in a third of an inning in his second start, and then held them scoreless over seven innings last time out. Britton’s a big-time ground ball guy (53.3%), getting them with his low-90′s sinker, a mid-80′s changeup, and a low-80′s slider.
Bullpen: The O’s have ten guys in their bullpen thanks to September call-ups, so Buck Showalter has plenty of options to work with. Two guys he doesn’t have anymore are dynamite setup man Koji Uehara and top lefty Mike Gonzalez, who’ve been traded in recent weeks. Jim Johnson (2.80) is still as good as it gets in the setup role, but other than him, they don’t have a single guy in their bullpen with a sub-4.00 FIP in more than 20 IP. That includes closer (and perpetually shaky) Kevin Gregg, who recently told reporters that “The bottom line is you obviously haven’t acquired my taste in pitching yet.” How awesome is that?
Recommended Orioles Reading: Camden Crazies.
As you’ve probably heard by now, the Yankees and Orioles will make up one of this weekend’s games on September 8th at 1pm ET, a mutual off day for the two clubs. Apparently some miscommunication between the O’s and the MLBPA resulted in the decision to postpone the game to that date, which the Yankees most certainly did not want. It was their only true off day of the month, and now they’ve got to play three games in three cities on two coasts in the span of about 60 hours late next week. They’ll play the Orioles in the Bronx on Wednesday, the Orioles in Baltimore on Thursday, then fly to the west coast to play the Angels in Anaheim on Friday.
As he’s prone to do, Buck Showalter ran his mouth about the Yankees being “disrespectful” towards the Orioles following Mike Flanagan’s death by wanting to play two games on Friday. “I’m sure if they stopped and thought about it, if the same thing happened to one of their greats, they probably would have given a lot of consideration to how they were going to handle that day,” said Showalter, apparently failing to realize that the Yankees have lost a number of all-time greats in recent years, including George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard last summer. Obviously a tribute to Flanagan was important to the O’s, but they did hide behind that excuse to distract from the real reason why they didn’t want to play two games on Friday: they didn’t want to lose the gate revenue.
Rosters expand this Thursday, so getting the important players rest won’t be too big of a deal down the stretch, but there’s no doubt that the travel schedule is a hassle. The Yankees will play the second of 18 games in 18 days today, a stretch that includes stops in five cities with the last six games on the west coast. By the time they finish up their game with the Mariners on Sept. 14th (10pm ET start) and fly to Toronto, it’ll probably be nine or ten in the morning on the East Coast when they land. Sleep all day before starting the three-game series the next day, and there’s the team’s only scheduled day off the rest of the season. Hardly qualifies as an off day, really.
Thankfully, the Yankees are sitting pretty at the moment, leading the Rays by 6.5 games for the wildcard with only 31 games left to play. If they go 14-14 in their next 28 games, the Rays would need to win 17 of their next 27 games just to make that last series of the year against the Yankees in Tampa interesting, and even then they’d need a sweep to force a Game 163. There’s very little to worry about here, and remember, New York will always be the bad guy. That’s why you have columns supporting the Orioles being written while Josh Beckett gets his ass kissed for complaining about the schedule. The double standard never ceases to amaze.
Hurricane Irene is still causing massive problems in Upstate New York, Vermont, and in parts of New England, so it does feel a little callous to discuss the storm’s ramifications on he Yankees and baseball in general. It’s just a game, a kid’s game, but it’s also part of our lives and a pretty big one for me (and I’m sure several of you). The Orioles were unwilling to be flexible with their schedule, so now the Yankees are going to be stuck feeling the impact of this weekend for another two weeks, if not more. They’ll get through it just fine, but that doesn’t mean they (or us fans) have to like it.
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.
Four games in 48 hours must suck for the players, but it’s pretty awesome as a fan. The Yankees and Orioles will be making up an April rain out as part of a doubleheader this Saturday, New York’s second doubleheader of the season. The first six games these two teams played all ended up in the win column for the Yankees, who outscored Baltimore 51-18 in the process.
What Have The Orioles Done Lately?
Shockingly, Buck Showalter’s magic doesn’t work when he doesn’t have much talent on roster. The Orioles have won just five of 13 games since the All-Star break and have been outscored 75 -55. They’ve scored more than three runs just twice in their last seven games. Overall, Baltimore is buried in the AL East cellar with a 41-60 record the league’s worst run differential (-111).
Orioles On Offense
The Orioles can hit a little, with a team .320 wOBA that is sixth best in the AL. They’re basically league average, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Their best hitter all season has been J.J. Hardy, who sports a .365 wOBA. Adam Jones is right behind him at .357 wOBA, and Mark Reynolds is pretty close to him at .350 wOBA. Those three have combined for 57 of the team’s 119 homeruns (47.9%). They’re Baltimore’s three best hitters, but they’re so spread out in the lineup that it takes away from the overall offense. Hardy leads off, Jones bats third, and Reynolds typically bats seventh. Hard to sustain rallies when your three best hitters are spread out like they; they should really be batting 2-3-4.
Nick Markakis is still a slightly above-average hitter (.324 wOBA), but not the star he looked like he was on his way to becoming a few years ago. Vladimir Guerrero (.309 wOBA) and Derrek Lee (.306) are basically reanimated corpses these days, impacting the game maybe once a week. They’re batting 4-5 solely because of reputation. Luke Scott (.309 wOBA) and Brian Roberts (.275) are out with injuries (Scott for the year) and have been replaced by Nolan Reimold (.344 wOBA in 36 games) and a combination of Robert Andino (.300 wOBA) and Blake Davis (.300). Matt Wieters is having a very nice year for a backstop (.318), but his platoon split is massive (.398 wOBA vs. LHP, .287 vs. RHP). Bench pieces Craig Tatum, Josh Bell, and Felix Pie are negligible, though Bell can run into one on occasion. Jones and Markakis (eight each) are the only players on the roster that can be considered stole base threats.
Orioles On The Mound
Friday, RHP Jeremy Guthrie (vs. A.J. Burnett): I’m setting the over/under on hit batsmen in this game at 2.5, whatcha got? Guthrie’s been plunking Yankees basically since the day he got to Baltimore, and it’s not confirmation bias; ten of his 44 batters he’s hit in his career have worn pinstripes. No other team has been plunked more than six times. Guthrie is having a typical Jeremy Guthrie season, with 5.57 K/9 and 2.67 BB/9 and a 4.36 FIP in 137.1 IP. His ground ball rate (36.7%) is way down as is his strand rate (69.8%), which is why his ERA is at 4.33 and not in the 3.00′s. Guthrie’s repertoire remains unchanged, low-90′s fastballs (four and two-seamers), low-80′s slider, low-80′s changeup, and a low-70′s curve. The Yankees have seen him a zillion times before, so there’s no surprises here.
Saturday Game One, LHP Zach Britton (vs. Bartolo Colon/Ivan Nova): I’m not quote sure who is starting what game for the Yankees on Saturday, but Colon and Nova will be the two guys pitching. Britton is coming back up from the minors for the spot start, three weeks after an eight run, two outs recorded disaster against the Red Sox. He shut the Yankees down the only other time he faced them, holding them to one unearned run over seven innings. That was the 15-inning, Hector Noesi MLB debut game. Britton is a true-sinkerballer, generating a plethora of ground balls (55.1%) with his low-90′s two-seamer. He’ll also break out a mid-80′s changeup and a low-80′s slider, but he throws the sinker almost 75% of the time. Hopefully that Yankees take what they learned from that game in May and knock Britton out well before the seventh this time.
Saturday Game Two, TBA (vs. Colon/Nova): The Orioles haven’t announced their starter yet for this game, but all signs point to it being either Chris Tillman or Alfredo Simon, with the former the most likely bet. Tillman is the poster boy for Baltimore’s pitching trouble, all their prospects go backwards once they get to the show, losing velocity and command. It’s worse than what happened to Phil Hughes, because at least he had a physical issue to explain things. All of Baltimore’s guys are healthy. Tillman used to be a mid-90′s fastball, high-70′s curve guy, but now he mostly lives in the 87-89 range with a mid-70′s bender. He’s been in Triple-A since the end of May, and the Yankees have hit him very, very hard in the past (including earlier this year).
Simon has nice peripherals (3.39 FIP in 44.2 IP) and lively stuff (mid-90′s heat, high-80′s splitter, mid-80′s slider), but he just threw five innings and 103 pitches on Wednesday. He’d be on three days rest tomorrow, which is why Tillman will likely get the call. I should also probably mention that I don’t know what order Britton and Tillman/Simon are pitching, it could be Britton in the night cap.
Sunday, RHP Jake Arrieta (vs. Freddy Garcia): It has not been a good season for young Mr. Arrieta, who has already faced the Yankees twice and lost both games. His strikeout rate (7.01 K/9) is good but not great and his walk rate (4.17) is pushing the limits of acceptable, but giving up 1.65 homeruns for every nine innings pitched is as bad as it gets. Only Bronson Arroyo (2.12), Colby Lewis (1.73), and Brett Myers (1.66) have been more homer prone this year (min. 80 IP). The surprising thing is that Arrieta’s 45.2% ground ball rate is pretty good, he’s just got a knack for falling behind in the count and making mistakes. He’s a five-pitch guy, throwing low-90′s four and two-seamers to set up his mid-80′s slider, mid-80′s changeup, and high-70′s curve. The two breaking balls are his go-to secondary offerings.
Bullpen: The Orioles have two dynamite setup guys in their bullpen, but there’s a chance one of them will be traded before Sunday’s deadline. That’s Koji Uehara, who’s rumored to be on the block and of interest to several contenders. He’s got gaudy peripherals (11.74 K/9 and 1.57 BB/9) and an ERA (1.76) to match. The other guy is Jim Johnson, who’s a low-strikeout (5.85 K/9) ground ball specialist (62%). Mike Gonzalez is fine when used as a lefty specialist (same-side hitters have a .229/.280/.357 line against him this year), but the rest of the bullpen is pretty awful.
Closer Kevin Gregg has struck out almost exactly eight and walked exactly six batters for every nine innings pitched this year (4.86 FIP). Jason Berken is super duper homerun prone (1.82 HR/9), as is Chris Jakubauskas (1.77). Mark Hendrickson has walked five and struck out five in nine innings since being recalled. Lefty Troy Patton has nice numbers (12.60 K/9 and 3.60 BB/9) … but he’s thrown just five innings since being recalled. Uehara and Johnson are very good, but the rest of this cast is as sketchy as it gets.
The six-game losing streak is in the rear-view mirror, but not far enough that we can forget about it. Five games against the Red Sox and Rays are always tough, but things get a little easier for the Yankees tonight when they kick off a two-game set against the Orioles in Yankee Stadium South, a.k.a. Camden Yards.
What Have The Orioles Done Lately?
Believe it or not, the O’s come into this series having won five of their last seven games, sweeping the Mariners and taking two of three from the Rays over the last week. They blew a big early league against the Sox on Monday before getting rained out last night, so they’re rested. Baltimore is still 13-20 since their 6-1 start, and their -21 run differential is the worst in the division and the fourth worst in the AL
Orioles On Offense
When we last saw the Orioles, they were a bottom five offense in terms of OBP and wOBA. They’ve improved somewhat, but still only sport a .314 OBP and .312 wOBA as a team. No longer bottom five, but still bottom half in the game. Derrek Lee will be placed on the disabled list before tonight’s game with a strained oblique, but that might be a good thing for the O’s since he was hitting just .174/.273/.370 over the last two weeks and has a .295 wOBA on the season.
Baltimore’s offense is being carried by four players at the moment. Adam Jones (.422 wOBA in May) and Vlad Guerrero (.398) have been monsters this month while Mark Reynolds (.364) and Nick Markakis (.363) have contributed at an above-average rate as well. Brian Roberts (.167) and Matt Wieters (.295) have cooled off this month, and Luke Scott is kind of moseying along with a .329 wOBA this month. Good, not great. J.J. Hardy came off the disabled list about a week ago and already has two homers in seven games since. That means no more Robert Andino or Cesar Izturis, for shame.
Orioles’ hitters have the highest walk rate (10.3%) and fifth lowest strikeout rate (19.0%) in the AL, which makes it hard to believe they rank so low on the team OBP leaderboard. They won’t get themselves out on pitches out of the zone as much as you might expect, but there are some definite holes that allow pitchers to work around guys and pick their spots in the lineup.
Orioles On The Mound
Wednesday, LHP Zach Britton: Oh no, a rookie starter the Yankees haven’t seen before, and Britton’s no slouch either; Baseball America ranked him as the 28th best prospect in the game before the season. The 23-year-old southpaw has made eight starts since being called up, and he’s getting away with striking out just over five batters per nine (5.02 K/9, to be exact) thanks to a 2.77 BB/9 and a 54.4% ground ball rate. Britton is the rare true sinker-changeup pitcher, with the fastball coming in around 91-93 and the changeup in the mid-80′s. He’ll also break off a few sliders, but we’re talking one out of 20 pitches or so. He’s very good, trust me. The Yankees are going to have their hands full with this one.
Thursday, RHP Jeremy Guthrie: The Yankees got lucky and missed Baltimore’s two best starting pitchers the other two times these clubs have played, but they won’t be so fortunate this time. We’ve seen so much of Guthrie over the last few years that I don’t need to tell you too much about him, though I want to mention that he constantly outperforms his peripherals and is doing so again this year (3.98 ERA, 4.64 FIP). He’s like Matt Cain in that sense, it’s been so long that I don’t think we can call a mid-to-upper 4.00′s FIP his true talent level. The ERA is closer to what he really is. Anyway, wooo Jeremy Guthrie. Hopefully he doesn’t hit anyone tomorrow.
Bullpen: Kevin Gregg is perpetually shaky in the ninth and blew Monday’s game against the Red Sox, his second blown in his last three chances. Koji Uehara (3.87 FIP) and Jim Johnson (3.56) have been very good in setup roles while Mike Gonzalez has been questionable (5.29 FIP) from the left side. Jason Berken (5.08) crashed back to Earth after the great start, and then you have Jeremy Accardo (5.57) and lefty specialist Clay Rapada (6.93) doing forgettable work in low-leverage spots.
The Orioles bullpen is pretty well rested, they had last night (rain), Saturday (Brad Bergesen complete game), and Friday (Guthrie complete game) off. Hopefully we’ll see lots of them over the next two days because Mo knows the Yankees could use some games in which they score a ton of runs and force the starter out of the game early. Some blowout wins sure would be nice right about now.
Recommended Orioles Reading: Camden Crazies
For the first time in 2011, the Yankees will be playing a team for the second time when they visit Camden Yards this weekend. CC Sabathia gets the ball in the Friday night opener, then will be followed by Freddy Garcia in a rare Saturday night game and Ivan Nova in the third and final game on Sunday afternoon. We know there’s always a nice turnout by Yankees fans when they visit Baltimore, so it’s like home away from home.
What Have The Orioles Done Lately?
Oh boy, what a tailspin for the O’s. Since their 6-1 start they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games (including two to the Yankees last week) and have been outscored 61-37 in a perfect storm of poor pitching and poor hitting. The Yankees roll into town for the weekend series without having to worry about Jeremy Guthrie or Zach Britton; neither of Baltimore’s two best pitchers is scheduled to start any of the three games.
Orioles on Offense
When we last checked in on the Orioles, they were a bottom five team in all of baseball in terms of wOBA and OBP. They’ve managed to up their team wOBA from .281 to .298 since last facing the Yankees, which is no longer bottom five but is still bottom nine. The team OBP climbed a bit from .282 and now sits at .291, but that’s the second worst mark in the game, ahead of only the uber-slumping Twins.
Matt Wieters is coming into the series like a man possessed, picking up seven hits in his last five games, including two doubles and two homers. Brian Roberts is in the middle of a nine-game hitting streak, a stretch that started in the first game against the Yankees last week. He’s hitting .368/.415/.500 during that time. Robert Andino is filling in for the injured J.J. Hardy, and he has eight hits (all singles) in his last five games. Mark Reynolds (two for his last 26), Nick Markakis (three for his last 30), Luke Scott (four for his last 24), and Derrek Lee (six for his last 30) are all slumping. Adam Jones and Vlad Guerrero are neither slumping nor on fire, they’re just kinda going through the motions right now.
Orioles on the Mound
Friday: Brad Bergesen: A high school teammate of Phil Hughes, Bergesen has made two starts and one relief appearance this season, throwing two garbage time innings against the Yankees last week. He’s allowed three homers in just 10.2 IP this year, and he’s never been one to miss bats: just a 4.53 K/9 and 5.8% swing-and-miss rate in his career. Bergesen will make the Yankees put the ball in play with 88-91 mph two- and four-seamers, and every so often he’ll bust out a changeup or slider. The Bombers have put a hurtin’ on him in the past, scoring 11 runs in 17 innings against him. Pitch-to-contact pitchers usually don’t fare well against the Yankees lineup, so expect good things.
Saturday: Chris Tillman: The Yankees faced Tillman in the series last week, tagging him for six runs and nine hits in just an inning-and-a-third. He held the utterly punchless Twins to three runs in 6.2 IP on Monday, but he was still missing some velocity and the results had more to do with Minnesota’s faults than his strengths. The game plan hasn’t changed one bit, just work the count and let it fly whenever Tillman makes a mistake.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta: After beating the Yankees twice in 2010, Arrieta pitched well against them last week but it was clear the Yankees made adjustments the second and third time through the order. They tagged him for five hits and three runs in the fifth and sixth innings after the young right-hander held New York to just one baserunner (a walk) over the first four innings. The Yankees should be better prepared for his two-seamer and slider heavy approach, hopefully jumping on the board a little earlier than they did last week.
Bullpen: Buck Showalter’s bullpen comes into the series pretty well rested, with only closer Kevin Gregg making as many as two appearances over the last four days. The only new face added to the ‘pen since last week is lefty specialist Clay Rapada, who replaced injured long-man Chris Jakubauskas. The middle relief/setup crew is rock solid with Jason Berken, Jim Johnson, and Koji Uehara from the right side while Mike Gonzalez takes care of business from the left. If the Yankees do what they’re supposed to do against the starters, the relievers should be nothing more than footnotes in the series.
Recommended Orioles Reading: Camden Crazies
Take a look at the AL East standings, and you’ll see an unfamiliar name at the top. The Baltimore Orioles, at 6-3, lead the division (one game better than the Yankees) and have the sixth best record in all of baseball. Buck Showalter’s magic from late last season has apparently trickled over for the time being, though real improvement was definitely expected this year. I feel pretty confident saying the Orioles’ true talent level is not a .667 winning percentage, but they aren’t the total pushovers they’ve been for the last decade or so.
Unfortunately, it looks like the weather may be a factor in this series. There’s a 70% chance of rain from right now through basically tomorrow morning. There’s also a 50% chance of rain tomorrow night, though Thursday looks to be nice and sunny in the boogie down. Who really knows with the weather, the rain could wreck the series or not have any impact whatsoever. Finding a makeup date won’t be an issue, these two clubs play enough games throughout the season. Here’s a look at the coming series, in which first place be on the line*.
What Have They Done Lately?
Like the Yankees, the O’s are coming off a scheduled off-day on Monday as well as a weekend series that saw them lose two of three. Baltimore ran into the juggernaut known as the Texas Rangers, though Mother Nature spared them defeat on Friday with some thunderstorms. Rookie southpaw Zach Britton stuck it to Texas for 7.2 shutout innings Saturday afternoon, resulting in the Rangers’ first (and only) loss of the season. It all went south from there for the Orioles, who lost 13-1 on Saturday night before getting shutout three-zip on Sunday.
Despite their hot start, the Orioles have lost their last two games and three of their last five. That happens when you play the Rangers and run into Justin Verlander. They’ve also had three days off in the last week, so they’re well-rested, if nothing else.
Orioles On Offense
Much was made of the Orioles’ offseason improvements, which saw Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds, and J.J. Hardy join the likes of Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, and Luke Scott. Well, a little over a week into the season, all Baltimore has to show for those upgrades is 35 runs scored, the sixth fewest in baseball. Their team .282 OBP and .281 wOBA are both bottom five marks in baseball and would be the worst in the division if it wasn’t for the Rays.
On a micro level, the O’s have just two regulars with a better than league average wOBA (lg avg is .319 right now): Markakis at .320 and Reynolds at .344. The former is mired in a 2-for-18 slump while the latter has been all-or-nothing: Reynolds has three multiple-hit games, one one-hit game, and five 0-fers. Brian Roberts and Adam Jones are the only O’s with more than one homer (both have two), and they have identical .280 wOBA’s. Roberts has been on base three times in his last 21 plate appearances, though Jones is coming in hot: 5-for-14 with two homers in his last four games. Vlad has warmed up after a slow start, going 8-for-21 in his last five games.
Scott, last year’s offensive dynamo, has been battling a groin strain and has just a .252 wOBA in five games played. He’s been limited to pinch-hitting duties and might not be able to return to the outfield until Wednesday or Thursday. The rain could keep him out further as I imagine they wouldn’t want to risk re-aggravating the injury on wet grass. Felix Pie and Robert Andino have been filling in for the time being, and … well … they’re Felix Pie and Robert Andino. Hardy will not be available this series due to (yep) an oblique strain, meaning Cesar Izturis is playing short. That’s good for the Yankees. Lee and Matt Wieters are both off to slow starts (312 and .239 wOBA’s respectively).
Orioles On The Mound
Game One: Chris Tillman: Part of the infamous Erik Bedard trade, Tillman has struggled to establish himself in the big leagues in each of the last two years (5.90+ FIP in 110+ IP between 2009 and 2009). He fired six no-hit innings against the Rays in his first start then got taken to the cleaners by the Tigers (4 R in 4.2 IP) next time out. Tillman is usually a low-90′s fastball guy, though it’d been down in the upper-80′s early on this year. Lack of velocity is the new black, apparently. He also throws an over-the-top curveball and an okay change, but so far he hasn’t missed as many bats as his stuff says he should, and he’s always been a guy that hands out a healthy amount of walks. Add in fly-ball tendencies, and Tillman plays right into the Yankees strengths. You might remember that he gave up Derek Jeter‘s 2,722nd career hit, the one that gave sole possession of the franchise’s all-time record.
Game Two: Chris Jakubauskas: A former independent leaguer, Jakubauskas went from Lincoln Salt Dogs in 2007 to the Mariners farm system in 2008 to the actual Mariners in 2009 to the Pirates in 2010 to the Orioles now. He’s the definition of a replacement level player, a guy with an 89-91 mph fastball and the occasional curveball, changeup, and cutter with med command. At 32-years-old, Jakubauskas is unlikely to get any better than what he is, and that’s a guy the Yankees should absolutely hammer. They crushed him in a relief appearance back in his Seattle days, the only time he’s faced New York. This is one of those “no excuse” games, Jakubauskas shouldn’t haven’t a prayer against a Yankees’ lineup even if half the guys are struggling like they are right now.
Game Three: Jake Arrieta: The O’s didn’t want to start Britton in Yankee Stadium so early in his career so they pushed him back a day and will have him pitch Friday instead of Thursday. Yesterday’s off-day allows Arrieta to make that Thursday start on normal rest. You might remember him from last season, when he made his big league debut against the Yanks and predictably earned his first career win against them with a quality start. He also beat them in early September with 6.1 innings of two run ball, but I suppose the good news is that against everyone else, he’s pitched to a 5.18 ERA with 48 walks and 51 strikeouts in 91.2 IP. The 25-year-old right-hander has some giddy-up on his fastball (92-94, will touch 96 on the rarest of occasions), though he usually lives off a low-90′s two-seamer and mid-80′s slider. Every once in a while he’s bust out a curveball and/or changeup. Arrieta’s minor league strikeout and walk numbers never stood out, but he’s a legitimate back-end starter right now.
Bullpen: Showalter’s bullpen has been pretty sketchy overall, backing up its 3.94 ERA with a 5.05 FIP. Kevin Gregg is a de facto closer and been okay in three appearances so far, though the setup crew has been remarkably strong. Jason Berken, Koji Uehara, and Jim Johnson have combined for 14 strikeouts and one walk in 11.2 combined innings. Mike Gonzalez hasn’t been good so far, but he’s still death on lefties. Jeremy Accardo will show his face from time to time, and Josh Rupe handles the mop-up work with Jakubauskas in the rotation. The key to the series for New York is simple: get to the Orioles’ starters early and keep that stellar middle relief corps from being a factor.
* No, I didn’t write that with a straight face.
It’s been 13 years since the Orioles last qualified for the postseason, and four years since they finished somewhere other than last place in the AL East. Despite that, they made some noise in the second half of last season, hiring former Yankees manager Buck Showalter in late-July and going 34-23 under his watch, the best record among AL East teams during that time. Before Buck came aboard, Baltimore won just 32 of 105 games.
After employing the American League’s third worse offense (.309 wOBA, 613 runs), worst starting rotation (4.74 FIP), and fifth worst bullpen (4.25 FIP) in 2010, the O’s went out and made several notable moves in the offseason. They traded four young relievers for Mark Reynolds, Brendan Harris, and J.J. Hardy, then signed free agents Vlad Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Justin Duchscherer, and Kevin Gregg, among others. Koji Uehara, Mark Hendrickson, and Cesar Izturis were also retained. Those additions undeniably help improve the team, but just how much?
Last year’s Orioles had exactly two well-above-average regulars on offense, and both are returning. Luke Scott led the team in pretty much everything, including wOBA (.387), homers (27), walk rate (11.4%), and ISO (.251). Nick Markakis finished second in wOBA (.353) and led the team in OBP (.370), producing yet another solid season in a young career full of them. Reynolds might be a whiff machine, but .241 career ISO’s don’t grow on trees, and neither do guys with legit 30+ homer power (at least these days). Vlad isn’t really as good as his 2010 first half (.319/.364/.554 with 20 homers) but probably isn’t as bad as his 2010 second half (.278/.322/.426, nine homers), so the middle ground (.355-ish wOBA) is the best bet this season. That’s four legit middle-of-the-order bats, two more than Baltimore had last year.
The defense has been upgraded at short with Hardy, who has the second highest UZR (+21.4) at the position over the last three years. Lee’s reputation with the glove is stellar, far better than what the incumbent Ty Wigginton can do at first. Reynolds is hardly a wizard at the hot corner, but he’s better than Miguel Tejada, so three of the four infield positions have been upgraded defensively. They’re not the ’99 Mets, but the infield defense has been massively improved.
The Orioles also boast what should be an improved relief corps. Uehara was brilliant late last year as closer (11.25 K/9, 1.02 BB/9, 2.40 FIP) and has some competition from Gregg, who’s had a sub-3.90 FIP in four the last five years, including 3.57 in 2010. Mike Gonzalez missed much of last season due to injury, and he overcame his early-season struggles to post a stellar 2.79 FIP. Left-handers that can strike out double-digit batters per nine innings are a rare breed. Add in Jason Berken (3.59 FIP in 2010) and Jim Johnson (3.08), and Showalter should have a solid set of middle relievers and setup men at his disposal.
Jeremy Guthrie, while no All-Star, is a fine rotation option with three straight years of 190+ IP plus a mid-4.00′s FIP in three of the last four seasons. He has a knack for outperforming his peripheral stats, posting a sub-4.00 ERA in three of the last four years. Behind him will be southpaw Brian Matusz, one of the very best young pitchers in the game. He had a fine rookie season (4.05 FIP in 175.2 IP) and was nothing short of brilliant down the stretch (2.18 ERA, 3.35 FIP in his final 11 starts). The O’s have a chance to win whenever either of those two guys is on the bump.
Just as was the case last year, this Orioles team is only going as far as the pitching staff takes them, and it won’t be that far. Beyond Guthrie and Matusz is a group of has-beens and never-wases, highlighted by Duschscherer. He started just five games last season after missing all of 2009, and has already been setback by nagging issues with his surgically repaired hip a few times this spring; the Duke of Hurl has two whole Grapefruit League innings to his credit and is expected to start the season on the disabled list. Say what you want about Kevin Millwood’s awful season in 2010 (4.86 FIP, 5.10 ERA), but at least he made 31 starts.
Behind Duchscherer lies Brad Bergesen, a low-slot righty with a career 4.70 FIP, the inability to miss bats (5.7% swinging strikes), and a considerable platoon split (5.32 xFIP vs. LHB, 4.09 vs. RHB). He’s young (25) and a ground ball guy (49.3% career), but the AL East is a tough place to live if you can’t get strike three consistently (4.48 K/9). Jake Arrieta showed flashes of good and bad in his debut last season, ending up with a 4.76 FIP and nearly as many walks (48) as strikeouts (52) in 100.1 IP. Chris Tillman is still struggling to find his way at the big league level (6.00 FIP in 118.2 IP), but has more talent than either Bergesen or Arrieta. Young pitchers tend to take a lot of lumps in this division, and it probably won’t be any different for Baltimore this summer.
Aside from Duchscherer, both Brian Roberts and Lee offer major health concerns. Roberts missed more than three months last year with an abdominal injury and has been limited by neck issues in camp. Lee had offseason wrist surgery and has already been slowed by soreness in the wrist, and the duo has combined for just 16 games played this spring. If they miss any length of time this year, the likely replacements are some combination of Izturis, Robert Andino, Jake Fox, and Josh Bell. Yikes.
The offense is still below average at short (Hardy has a .302 wOBA over the last two seasons) and behind the plate (Matt Wieters has a .315 wOBA in his young career), though both are capable of much more. Markakis’ cannon arm doesn’t make up for his shoddy range (-11.0 range runs over the last three years), and although Scott isn’t as bad with the glove as you’d think, going from Felix Pie in left to him is a step down.
Furthermore, the Orioles have one of the weaker farm systems in the game, ranked in the bottom third by most publications. Zach Britton, arguably the best left-handed pitching prospect in the game, will make his debut at some point this year, but as we saw with Matusz early last year, quick success is no guarantee. Bell, Wynn Pelzer, Brandon Snyder, and Ryan Adams are more solid contributors than future cornerstones. There just isn’t much help on the way right now.
If the Orioles are going to make any noise in the AL East this year, it won’t be because of veteran additions like Vlad, Gregg, and Duchscherer. It’ll be because the young guys all take a major step forward, a step forward that will inevitably be attributed to Showalter. Markakis has flashed MVP potential in the past, and Wieters has all the talent in the world. Adam Jones is a fine player, but a .325 wOBA and just 5.5 fWAR is not what everyone expected in his first 1,800 PA. Matusz, Tillman, and Britton are the makings of a stellar rotation, but progress must first be made by all three. Again, the talent is there, it just has to turn into performance.
Are the Orioles a better team than they were 12 months ago? Sure, I don’t think there’s a doubt about that. Unfortunately, we’re talking about a 74-76 win team being better than a 66 win team. The improvement under Showalter is real but only to a certain extent. Anyone thinking they’ll maintain that 97-win pace they had under Buck over a full season is going to be very disappointed. The O’s are not going to be a total pushover in 2011, but they’re not going to be a real threat to the three AL East powers either.
The offense can’t be counted on to come back from deficits like this every game. The Yanks have played this game five times so far this year, and it’s only going to result in a win every so often. Hopefully, a move to a climate-controlled environment helps out.
Pavano vs. Fat Ass Ponson tonight. If we don’t pound the crap out of this guy, I’m going to be very disappointed.