Aug 25, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) hits a one-run rbi single in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Orioles @ Indians

At a critical juncture in the season, the Indians going 1-5 on a road trip heading into September probably wasn’t the best thing in the world. They’re still in the running for the Wildcard, so hope is still with us, and a win in Detroit is always nice. It just would have been nice to not look so hapless offensively. I figured the other day they needed to go something like  21-11 to grab a Wildcard spot from the Oakland Athletics, so now margins for error are quite thin. 20-6 is tough, but doable especially with series against the Mets, Astros and White Sox with only the Royals and Orioles lurking as spoilers. Nobody said it’d be easy. Plus you know the Twins will probably ruin everyone’s day in that last series of the year.

But no matter, back home to face the Orioles. Coming into 2013 the O’s had visions of October baseball, but they have no shot at their division and are somewhere around fourth for the second Wild Card. Could be worse – they could NOT lead the majors in homers (180 as of Sunday), and they could have NOT found the beast that is Chris Davis, and Manny Machado could have ended up busting out. They’re still good and they just added Michael Morse to the fold. Sure, he’s barely a position player, but would you rather have him or Danny Valencia as your DH? Exactly. Plus he has the potential to hit EVEN MORE HOME RUNS. Who wouldn’t like that?

Aug 25, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) fields a ground ball hit by Oakland Athletics shortstop Eric Sogard (not shown) in the seventh inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Athletics 10-3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

In a way, it amazes me the Orioles aren’t in better position to take the division, what with all they home runs they hit. Sure, bombs aren’t everything, but the last few years the Yankees have lived up to their nickname and it’s led to playoff berths. The difference? Pitching. To wit, Baltimore’s inability to. They’re 11th in team ERA, have no complete games or shutouts to their name, and have given up 171 homers, the most in the AL. Perhaps they’re offsetting all the good the offense does with the long ball. Really it’s a wonder they’re still in contention at all with how bad that rotation is. They need Dylan Bundy back. And to not give Scott Feldman any starts. Ever.

Their bullpen is little better, though for all the hate closer Jim Johnson has taken this year he’s just as good as a year ago, just with a few blowups. He just wasn’t a world beater last year, people are a bit skewed in their view. The problem is no one in the ‘pen is striking out a man an inning, though Darren O’Day is closest, 55 in 56.1 IP. Too many batted balls can lead to runs much quicker than the K allows, obviously. Give their farm another year to grow and perhaps there will be some power arms around, but right now it’s pretty not good.

Now I’ve said all this, their starters will each last into the seventh and the bullpen will be lights out. Bill Simmons has NOTHING on my reverse jinx skillz.

So last year the story of the Orioles was tied up in their 29-9 record in one-run games, a brilliant piece of luck. Many pundits said it couldn’t last, but Baltimore looked like it didn’t need it in the first half with a 53-43 record and Chris Davis beating the crap out of baseballs like he was. It wouldn’t last, they’re 18-20 since then and in one-run games this season they’re 15-24. Sometimes Lady Luck just drops you like a bad habit. Baltimore is certainly a good team with a lot of room to grow and build on the broad shoulders of the men manning the corners of the infield, but they’re not there yet. Just imagine what could be done if their owner didn’t hate the city of Baltimore as he seems to. He’s just so emotionally abusive – pretty park, team with hope, he gives them a tease now and then by opening the purse strings just a bit. It’s like he doesn’t like winning, though he’s a trial attorney who made his money in torts, so maybe he just likes screwing people over. Makes as much sense as anything.

The Indians NEED to win this series, and a sweep might even be necessary. If my 92-win target is to be believed, they can’t lose a series the rest of the way. Perhaps the win Sunday in Detroit will catalyze them and they’ll score six runs a game the rest of the way. The pitching has held, the bats need to do their job. And maybe if the guy brought in for his defensive prowess could not misplay easy fly balls by 45 feet, that’d be greeeeaaaaaaat.

Pitching Matchups

Bud Norris (9-10, 4.14 ERA, 4.42 SIERA) vs. Justin Masterson (14-9, 3.49 ERA, 3.43 SIERA)

Bud Norris is an alright pitcher, it was just a little strange that he as one of the big names heading to the trade deadline. The Orioles had hoped he’d bolster their rotation for the playoff drive, but he’s been pretty terrible for them. He hasn’t made it out of the sixth in his last four starts and his time in Baltimore has led to a 4.91 ERA in six starts. Perhaps he was the “ace” of the Astros staff, but with a career 91 ERA+ he’s rather below average as a starter. He was an upgrade for the O’s in that their other starters were even worse. At least he’s cheap, and they don’t have to worry about him next year.

Masterson’s outing in Atlanta last Wednesday was alright, it would have been nice if he could have been better. Crazy, right? My only real issue is his 19 walks in six starts last month – he’s giving teams too many chances, and against Baltimore that can end in Weaverball making a comeback. He was almost amazing when he faced Baltimore in June, throwing a no-hitter into the fifth before being tagged for six runs, five on two homers in the seventh. He should not do that. I figure that way, he can have success.

Chris Tillman (15-4, 3.61 ERA, 4.05 SIERA) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (9-9, 3.95 ERA, 4.16 SIERA)

MLB.com called Tillman the Orioles’ ace. That speaks volumes for the quality of their rotation, along with Bud Norris being considered a legitimate upgrade. It’s not that he’s bad, heck, I’d love Tillman on the Indians, but he’s at best a Zach McAllister type. The only time he’s gotten past the seventh inning was against the Giants early in August, not exactly a massive achievement. The question is which Indians offense will show up to face him. At this point I’d take the one he saw back in June – three earned runs on four hits, but that was when Jason Kipnis was super Saiyan-ing. Tillman throws his fastball upwards of 60% of the time, hanging in the low nineties. If he can’t find his secondary stuff, the Indians should have a good day.

Aug 19, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman (30) throws in the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Ubaldo got his ERA below four! It’s truly a banner day in the Jimenez household. However, despite the 10 K’s and the two earned runs, he was a bit too… Ubaldo-y against the Tigers. It’s disconcerting. However, since the beginning of June he’s got a 3.01 ERA and only allowed more than three runs once, a span of 16 starts. He’s also walked 47 in that time. That seems like a tremendous number, not in a good way. Like the Exxon Valdez as opposed to a tremendous pie. He saw the O’s back in June as well, lasting into the sixth with two earned runs on eight hits. It’s nice to see him coming up in the rotation and not cringe. A real pleasure.

Miguel Gonzalez (8-7, 4.11 ERA, 4.46 SIERA) vs. Zach McAllister (7-8, 3.81 ERA, 4.49 SIERA)

Gonzalez’s numbers are a bit skewed following a bludgeoning at the hands of the Yankees on Friday, seven earned runs on six hits in less than five innings. prior to that he’d come out of the bullpen a couple times and had a string of four straight solid games. He’s one of several mediocre Orioles pitchers that walks a few too many and strikes less than you’d like. Can the Indians hit him? Sure, if they’re hitting. They saw him in June, 6.1 innings with three earned runs on six hits, no walks and nine strikeouts. Plainly it was an imposter. His four-seamer and sinker sit around 92, relying on them and a splitter to get the grounders he wants. Like with Masterson or any sinker baller, if its biting, it’ll be a long day.

Zach McAllister was the victim of possibly the most maddening event in 2013 for the Indians. When Michael Bourn lost that fly ball in the lights leading to a huge inning for the Tigers that sunk the Indians, you could see on Zach’s face the wave of depression/sadness/frustration/resignation that he’s felt when facing Detroit. Besides that he’s been brilliant since coming off the DL (other than against the Tigers), though all those walks against Detroit were disconcerting. Perhaps he was trying to be too fine, putting a lot of pressure on himself to beat the Tigers, just like the rest of the team. He’s going to bounce back strong though, I’m sure of it. He hasn’t seen this iteration of the Orioles but their reliance on the home run to score, combined with his ability to not allow homers (.7 per nine) should play in his favor. You have to think he wants to get back out there and rectify last game.

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Tags: Baltimore Orioles Chris Davis Cleveland Indians Jim Johnson Manny Machado Series Preview Zach McAllister