The Orioles certainly provided some grit and exciting moments during the final two games against the Nationals this weekend, but ultimately lost the series. The Birds have little time to lick their wounds, however, as the Toronto Blue Jays come to town for a three-game set starting this evening.
The Orioles enter the game at 12-9, in third place in the A.L. East, three games behind the Yankees and winners of seven of their last 10 games. The Blue Jays are 7-11 on the season and 6.5 games out of first.
The Orioles offense has been the surprise of the Major Leagues thus far, ranking third in the A.L. in runs per game, third in batting average, third in OPS and second in total bases.
José Iglesias ranks second in the A.L. in batting average with a .400 mark, and Hanser Alberto is tied for the A.L. lead with 30 hits, while leading the majors in doubles with 11.
Three Orioles, Alberto, Iglesias and Anthony Santander rank in the top 5 in the A.L. in doubles. Santander has been on fire this year, leading the majors in RBI, ranking eighth in home runs and fifth in total bases.
Toronto’s offense has struggled to start the season. They rank 25th in runs scored per game, 1.22 runs behind the Orioles. The Jays have hit the same number of home runs as the Orioles (32), but they are struggling to get on base, doing so at a .302 clip.
If the Orioles have shown a weakness this season, it has been their pitching. The staff ERA sits at 4.62. The bullpen, however, has carried its own weight, but it is taxed.
This season, the bullpen has pitched almost half of the Orioles innings, 91 compared to 94 by the starters. By comparison, the starting pitching’s ERA is 4.88, while the bullpen’s is 4.35. Comparatively, starting pitching has struck out 73 batters, while relievers have K’d 102.
Blue Jay pitching has been respectable, sporting a 3.99 ERA, while striking out 169 in 160 innings pitched. Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays’ starters have looked bad, pitching to a 4.69 ERA; however, their bullpen has been fantastic, with an ERA of 3.12.
Starting pitching matchups:
Monday – Alex Cobb (1-1, 2.75) vs. Hyun-Jin Ryu (1-1, 4.05)
Cobb has certainly been a bright spot for the Orioles this year, allowing no more than two earned runs in each of his games and striking out 17 in his 19 innings of work.
Cobb last pitched on August 11, going 5.1 innings, while striking out two and surrendering three runs, two of them earned.
The model of consistency thus far this year, Cobb’s strikeout to walk rate of 2.11 has been its best since his rookie year in 2011. Current Blue Jays are 8-for-17 against Cobb, with Randall Grichuk doing most of the damage, going 5-for-7 against him.
Ryu will be making his fourth appearance for the Blue Jays since joining them in the offseason. Ryu’s strikeout rate is up this season, having struck out 24 in 20 innings of work.
Ryu’s ERA is above four for the first time in his career this season, and his walks per nine innings (4.1) is the highest of his career. Only three current Orioles have faced Ryu and have gone 6-for-14 against him.
Tuesday – Wade LeBlanc (1-0. 7.13) vs. Nate Pearson (0-0, 5.11)
LeBlanc has been one of two weak links in the Orioles rotation to start the year. Beyond the inflated ERA, LeBlanc has lasted just over four innings per game, and his strikeout rate has been the lowest of his career.
LeBlanc has lasted for only 3.1 innings in each of his last two games. Current Blue Jays are batting .406 with four home runs against Leblanc in 32 at-bats.
Pearson, one of the Blue Jays most coveted prospects, is pitching in his first season with the big league club. He has struggled with command, walking nine already in only 12.1 innings pitched. In his last start in Miami, Pearson went only 2.1 innings, allowing seven runs, four earned, and walking four.
Wednesday – Tommy Milone (1-2, 4.00) vs. Tanner Roark (1-1, 6.00)
Milone has been another pleasant surprise for the Orioles this year. Milone’s one strikeout per inning rate is the highest of his career, while his walk rate of 1.5 per nine innings is among the lowest.
Milone did struggle in his last game against the Nationals August 14, giving up six runs, three earned, in four innings. Current Blue Jays have three hits in 14 at-bats against Milone.
Roark has struggled with the long ball this season, giving up 2.3 home runs per nine innings, more than double his career average. Additionally, Roark has walked 6.8 per nine innings, over four more than his career average. Only Rio Ruiz and Chris Davis have had at-bats against Roark, going 2-for-11.
Keys to the Series:
1. Rack up runs on their starters!
The four starters in this series have a collective ERA of 4.90. The strength of this pitching staff is its bullpen, as evidenced by its 3.12 ERA. By scoring in bunches against the starters, the Orioles can help put pressure on the Blue Jays to overwork their pen throughout the series. This group of three pitchers is averaging less than five innings per game, and the Orioles will look to keep it that way.
2. Be patient at the plate!
The starting pitchers that the Orioles are facing have walked 27 batters in 44.1 innings. As a staff, the Blue Jays’ 4.7 walks per game is the worst in baseball. The Orioles will do damage by getting runners on base and moving station to station, as the Blue Jays have not surrendered a large amount of home runs this season.
Starters must go deeper in the game!
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that this key is like a broken record, but it continues to hold true. Over the last week alone, the bullpen has pitched 36 innings in six games (and three innings) to account for a whopping 62% of all innings pitched. And though the team went 6-2 and the pen has performed admirably during that time, the bullpen is taxed to its limit, and Brandon Hyde is continuing to make moves to provide some relief. The Orioles need five to six innings or more from each starter this week.
The Orioles have six straight games against the bottom two teams in the A.L. East, and this series against the Blue Jays provides the Orioles a great opportunity to stay on their current hot streak. The Jays will be without their best player, Bo Bichette, who has a potentially serious knee injury.
How will the series play out? What do you expect to see in this series? Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram!