After losing two straight to the Rays and postponing their game on Thursday, the Orioles travel to Buffalo this weekend to take on the Toronto Blue Jays in a three-game series.
The Orioles enter the series in fourth place in the American League East at 14-16, six games behind the Rays. The Orioles are one spot out of the last playoff spot in the AL, a game and a half behind the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays are in third place at 15-14 and in possession of the last playoff spot in the AL.
After jumping out of the gate with a 12-8 record, the Orioles have faltered a bit recently, going 2-8 in their last 10 games played. The Birds seem to be on the fence about competing this year and building towards the future.
Fans are wondering if General Manager Mike Elias will trade away pieces that could benefit other teams, such as Alex Cobb and Mychal Givens. With the trade deadline just days away, those questions should be answered soon.
Conversely, the Blue Jays are headed in the opposite direction. After an 8-11 start, the Jays have won seven of their last 10 and consider themselves playoff contenders.
In what can only be seen as a playoff push move, the Blue Jays have acquired Taijuan Walker from the Mariners for a player to be named later, and Jays’ GM Ross Atkins stated yesterday that he expects the team to be extremely active at the trade deadline.
The Orioles’ decline in the standings have coincided with the cooling of their bats. During the first two weeks of August, the Orioles batted .277 and scored 72 runs in 13 games. During the last 12, the team has batted .249 and scored 47 runs. That is a difference of over one and a half runs per game.
The struggles at the plate have seen the Orioles drop from third in the AL in runs per game to sixth (4.8) and third in OPS to fifth. The Orioles batting average has remained high, as the team ranks second in the AL with a .258.
The ups and downs at the plate are to be expected for a team that has the third youngest positional group in baseball at an average age of 26.6.
Anthony Santander continues to surprise the league, even though his 18-game hit streak ended versus the Rays. The 25-year-old is seventh in the league in slugging percentage, second in doubles and RBI and first in total bases.
After missing a couple games, the Orioles appear to be getting back another key to their lineup, Pedro Severino. The Orioles’ starting catcher ranks fourth in the AL in batting average and fifth in on-base percentage.
Prospect Ryan Mountcastle has had a promising start to his major league career going 6-for-16 and getting on base in half of his at-bats since being called up.
Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays have a very young crew of position players, ranking as the youngest in all of baseball at 25.7. The Jays offense ranks a touch behind the Orioles in runs per game at 4.79, with a team batting average of .252. During the last two weeks, however, they have batted .272 and scored six runs per game.
The Blue Jays have pulled this off despite missing their young, talented shortstop, Bo Bichette. But the increased offensive production has coincided with the hot bat of Randal Grichuck.
Grichuck has hit all eight of his home runs on the season in the last 14 games, including three against the Orioles in their last series. Additionally, Grichuk has 20 RBI in the last 14 games, after having only one in his first 15.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is also heating up, batting .304 with a home run and seven RBI in his last six games.
The Orioles’ pitching has been less than impressive on the season and has gotten worse over the last two weeks. The staff ERA on the season is 4.77 but has been 5.58 over their last 12 games. In the team’s 14 wins this season, the pitching staff has a collective ERA of 2.90. In their 16 losses, the ERA is 5.88.
The bullpen has performed admirably but cannot clean up the mess left by the starters. Orioles starting pitchers have an ERA of 5.37, compared to a 4.20 for the bullpen. Starter have given up over twice the number of home runs (29) that the bullpen has (14) despite pitching eight less innings.
The Orioles have several bullpen arms that have been quite impressive on the season. Four relief pitchers have pitched more than 10 innings with an ERA under three; Thomas Eshelman (2.75), Paul Fry (2.31), Tanner Scott (2.31) and Mychal Givens (1.38).
The Blue Jays’ pitching staff has been impressive on the season, even before the addition of Walker. The team ranks sixth in the AL in staff ERA with a 3.93 and allows 4.52 runs per game.
Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays bullpen is its strong point. While the team’s starters have a collective ERA of 4.66, the bullpen comes into the series with a 3.29 and 148 strikeouts in 105 innings.
Keys to the Series:
1. Avoid the hot bat
Randal Grichuk single-handedly crushed the Orioles in their last series, and the Orioles kept pitching to him despite the data suggesting that they should not.
Against the Orioles, Grichuk is a career .349 hitter with 16 home runs in 129 at-bats. Over a 600 at-bat season, this projects to a 74 home run season.
The Orioles refused to pitch around him, and Grichuk hit .429 against them in three games with four home runs and 11 at-bats.
The Blue Jays are coming into the game with several hot hitters, including Teoscar Hernandez, Vlad Guerrero and the aforementioned Grichuk. The team cannot walk them all each time; however, they cannot serve up some of the pitches they did to Grichuk last series.
2. Improve the starting pitching
The stats above tell us all we need to know about the Orioles’ starting pitching.
During this series, the Orioles look to send John Means, Alex Cobb and Tommy Milone to the mound. Cobb and Milone have been the Orioles’ best starters on the season and the only two with ERA’s lower than 4.00.
The bullpen continues to rack up innings and could use a game or two of limited use. Means has struggled this season, averaging less than three innings pitched per game and putting up an ERA of 10.13.
3. Get the first batter out each inning (pitchers)
On the Orioles broadcasts this season, Ben McDonald has stated on numerous occasions that it is extremely important to get the first batter out each inning.
This season, with no outs and a runner on, the Orioles have allowed a batting average of .319 with four home runs. With runners in scoring position, the Orioles are allowing a batting average of .300 and .296 with runners on any base.
4. Score when runners reach base
The Orioles are the second worst team in the AL this season when leaving runners in scoring position, averaging 3.6 per game behind only the Astros.
The team is batting .239 with runners in scoring position on the season and .215 with a runner on second. With two outs and runners in scoring position, the Orioles are batting .227 in 119 at-bats.
On the season, the Orioles have lost seven games by one or two runs. During those games, the team has gone 6-for-43 with runners in scoring position for an average of .140 and left 43 on base. This has to improve during this series and on the season.
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!