Make that back-to-back-to-back series losses for the Baltimore Orioles. The team that was once 6-1 and at the top of the AL East now finds themselves mired in an early season slump and down to third in the standings. A combination of poor pitching and non-existent offense has the Orioles locked in a 7-game losing streak, but they’ll get a chance to redeem themselves with four games against a Twins team facing many of the same problems.
First off, the offense needs a huge boost. Just two guys in the lineup (with at least 20 ABs) sport a batting average of over .250 or an OPS greater than .700. That hurts. Bad. The poor offense has produced just three and half runs per game (51 total) which must get turned around in order for this team to win games (haven’t we said this for pretty much every series already?). Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero both maintain an OPS below .600 and Adam Jones floats along with a .216 OBP (1 BB and 12 K). The good news is that Brian Roberts leads the team in hits which brings back memories of when B-Rob was a DOUBLES MACHINE. Second, the pitching could also use some help. Jeremy Guthrie and Zach Britton both regressed a bit after burning through two starts each. Chris Tillman was shellacked in the Bronx this past week and must show that he’s got something that can produce outs. Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg made us all wonder what we did in our past lives to deserve this.
Quick! Ten points if you can name the only team in the MLB that has produced fewer runs than the Orioles. If you guess the Minnesota Twins, congratulations, you’ve earned ten points (the points don’t mean anything). Like the Orioles, they have just a couple of guys above a .700 OPS. The likes of Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer (the 8th round pick in one of the CC fantasy leagues for….someone) are off to exceptionally slow starts, OPSing .552 and .508 respectively. The pitching hasn’t been awful, but it is pretty difficult to win games when you are only putting up 3 or so runs per game (hey…that sounds an awful lot like the Orioles….). Top names like Francisco Liriano and Joe Nathan have yet to show up so far. In other news for the struggling Twins, Joe Mauer has been placed on the DL with weak legs. Can the Orioles use this series as a leg to stand on or will they continue to sink toward the depths of the AL East?
Game 1 (Monday @ 7:05pm):
MIN – Francisco Liriano (0-3, 9.42 ERA)
BAL – Chris Tillman (0-1, 7.30 ERA)
Liriano is struggling with his command so far. Generally throws a two-seamer far more often than a four-seamer, but has evened that up this season (possibly due to control issues). Velocity has dropped a bit from last year, but appears to be back near his career average. Also throws a slider and changeup. Rarely throws the changeup to lefties. Will come in with the mid 80s slider (to righties), but favors low and outside with the fastball.
Orioles have pretty good career numbers off of Liriano. Nick Markakis is 2 for 3 with 3 RBI. Matt Wieters has the lone extra-base hit of anyone on the active roster (Nick Green has the other double). Shame that Tillman will not get to face Mauer as he’s 0-3 off of the right-hander. Denard Span is 2 for 2 with a BB.
Game 2 (Tuesday @ 7:05pm):
MIN – Carl Pavano (1-1, 3.60 ERA)
BAL – Jake Arrieta (1-1, 7.04 ERA)
Using more four-seamers and changeups this year than in the past. Used to make heavy use of a two-seam fastball, but has shelved that in favor of the four-seamer more often than not this season. Velocity is down just slightly (fastball now hanging in the high 80s/low 90s) which might have something to do with age. Does not utilize the inside corner on a regular basis, keeping most of his pitches on the outer half of the plate. Will mix in the occasional splitter and cutter.
Vlad Guerrero is 7 for 35 (.200 BA) against Pavano. He does, however, have 2 HRs. Cal Ripken, Jr. and Chris Hoiles have ABs against Pavano. Brian Roberts is a career .462 against Pavano with 2 doubles and a triple. Jason Kubel is 2 for 2 with a HR off of Arrieta and is one of just a handful of Twins to face him.Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young are both 0-3.
Game 3 (Wednesday @ 7:05pm)
MIN – Nick Blackburn (1-2, 3.06 ERA)
BAL – Zach Britton (2-1, 2.75 ERA)
Uses a two-seam fastball, changeup, and curveball (toss in the occasional cutter). Like Pavano and Liriano, his velocity is down a bit this season. Fastball usually came in around the low 90s, but has been in the upper 80s so far. Keeps the curveball away from the righties and won’t throw it much to the lefties. Uses the outer half often with the changeup, but was able to do this more effectively against the lefties. Seems to catch a lot of the plate with the changeup on the righties.
Felix Pie is 2 for 3 with a HR. Nick Markakis’ one hit in nine trips against Blackburn was a HR. With the exception of Markakis and Vlad Guerrero, the Orioles lineup has fared well against the righty.
Game 4 (Thursday @ 7:05pm)
MIN – Scott Baker (0-2, 4.50 ERA)
BAL – Jeremy Guthrie (1-2, 3.32 ERA)
Can struggle with control at times, but generally has good K numbers. Really a two pitch (fastball and slider) guy. Those two pitches account for 80 percent of his total pitches. Mixes in the occasional changeup and curveball. Low 90s velocity on the fastball. All over the map against lefties this season, but has been more precise against righties.
Scott Baker is 5-0 in his career against the Orioles, holding the team to 12 runs and .214 BA in 42 innings. Very solid against Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero, and Nick Markakis. Less so against Brian Roberts and Adam Jones. On the opposite side, Jeremy Guthrie is 3-0 against the Twins. Somewhat odd consider that the top bats in the Minnesota lineup have very good career numbers off of Guts. Mauer is 5-9 (.556 BA), Morneau 4-12 (.333), Cuddyer 5-13 (.385), and Kubel 5-16 (.313). Denard Span is 1-9.