The Orioles’ playoff hopes were dealt a huge blow this weekend when the Yankees hit them with four straight losses. The team will look to get up off the mat this week, when the National-League-East-leading Atlanta Braves visit for a three-game series at Camden Yards.
After losing five straight, the Orioles find themselves in fourth place in the AL East at 20-26, 9.5 games behind the Rays and 5.5 games out of the last playoff spot with only 14 games left. A 10-4 finish to the season combined with an Indians or Yankees 4-10 finish could land the Orioles an improbable playoff spot.
From August 18 through September 4, the Yankees went 4-10. The Indians are in the midst of their worst stretch of the season, going 5-9 in their last 14. The Orioles best 14-game stretch took place from July 31 to August 14 when they went 9-5. It is not likely, or even probable but…Why Not?
Despite ranking highly in the American League in a number of offensive categories on the season (third in batting average, fifth in slugging, fifth in total bases), runs have been tough to come by lately.
During the four-game series against the Yankees, the Orioles scored three runs, while batting an anemic .138. Since September 1, the team is batting .253 and leaving almost seven runners on base per game.
The Orioles’ streaky-ness when it pertains to wins and losses tends to go hand-in-hand with the streaky-ness of their young sluggers.
The O’s current core four of Ryan Mountcastle, Hanser Alberto, Renato Nunez, and D.J. Stewart batted a combined .196 against the Yankees, after batting a collective .302 in the previous seven games. These four will need to heat up against the Braves.
The Braves are currently in first place in the NL East at 28-19, 3.5 games ahead of the Marlins. Since a four-game losing streak in mid-August, the Braves have gone 17-9 and find themselves with the fourth best run differential in all of baseball.
Since August 31, the Braves have scored an unbelievable 8.1 runs per game, aided by a 29-run outburst against the Marlins on September 9. Their slash line during that time is an absurd .300/.393/.564. Even without the Marlins games, the Braves are scoring 6.6 runs per game and batting .276. The offense of the Braves is clicking on all cylinders.
The Braves offense is led by a core four that can match any four in Major League Baseball. Freddie Freeman, Adam Duvall, Marcel Ozuna, and Ronald Acuna, Jr. have combined for 49 home runs on the season to go with all but Duvall reaching base more than 40% of the time.
Over the last four weeks, those four sluggers have combined for 27 home runs, 77 RBI, and a .455 OBP in only 221 at-bats. The Braves lineup features six hitters with seven or more home runs and features five hitters with an OPS over .900.
In a reversal of fortunes, the Orioles’ pitching has come on as of late, posting a 3.87 ERA and striking out seven per game since August 31. This comes after pitching the month of August to an ERA of 4.40.
The shine has certainly come off Alex Cobb, who started the season with a 2.50 ERA with 17 strikeouts and eight walks in 19.2 innings. In his four starts since, Cobb has an ERA of 7.32 with 12 strikeouts in 19.2 innings.
The Orioles do have some bright spots, however, in prospects Dean Kremer and Keegin Akin. The pair has started five games in the last two weeks. The pair has gone 1-1 with a 2.57 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 21.1 innings pitched. Orioles fans are hoping that this is just the beginning of Oriole pitching prospects that are finally beginning to see success at the Major League level.
If there is a weakness on this Braves team, it is their starting rotation. The Braves’ starters have a collective ERA of 5.95, while the bullpen has a 3.23. The only effective, healthy Braves starter is recently recalled Ian Anderson and potentially the newly activated Cole Hamels, who will face the Orioles in game three after being on the 60 day IL.
In game one, the Orioles will face Touki Toussaint, who has a 7.89 ERA but hasn’t pitched since August 23, when he was optioned to the Braves’ Alternate Training Site.
Keys to the Series:
1. Get to the starter
We know two of the three starters in the series; one hasn’t thrown a pitch in almost a year, and the other has been so bad this year. A team with a major starting pitching need will not keep him on the main roster. We do not know who will pitch the second game, but it will not be Ian Anderson, as he pitched Saturday. This series is ripe to be a get-right series for the offense.
2. Get the bottom of the order out
While the Braves have six batters that can put a hurting on a pitching staff, the team’s seven through nine hitters are batting .228. While those spots make up a third of the lineup, they account for only one quarter of the team’s home runs. Conversely, the top five spots in the order have hit 53 home runs, accounting for two-thirds of the team’s total. Orioles pitching must get these batters out consistantly and not allow the Braves to turn the offense over and maximize damage by their big bats.
3. Limit the extra-base hits
The Braves are going to get on base, and they will do so frequently. Atlanta is second in baseball with an on-base percentage of .346. They do much of their damage with extra base hits. The team leads baseball in doubles, ranks second in home runs, and is first overall in total bases. Also, 42% of the team’s hits have gone for extra-bases. The Orioles need to limit the Braves to singles and have them add to their left on base totals, which is already third worst in the MLB.
How do you see this series shaping out? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to follow The Baltimore Battery on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!