Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles @ Detroit Tigers, 17-19 June 2013

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

After gaining two games on the AL East-leading Red Sox, the O's depart for a tough series in Detroit.

Any 5-2 homestand is a good homestand, but going 3-1 against the Red Sox was especially sweet. Now, the Orioles have a six-game road trip ahead, starting with three ugly matchups against the Tigers.

Monday, 17 June: Jake Arrieta vs. Max Scherzer
Career Numbers Arrieta vs. Tigers Scherzer vs. O's
IP 12.1 33.0
ERA 1.46 4.36
FIP 2.93 3.19
Slash Line (Past Teams) .260/.315/.320 .280/.312/.447
Slash Line (Current Players) .194/.237/.222 .230/.248/.333

It's awfully hard to be optimistic about this game. Arrieta struggled tremendously in his four major-league starts this year, due largely to a horrendous walk rate (7.58 per nine IP and 18.4% of all batters faced). He hasn't exactly been setting the minors on fire, either, pitching well in his first two AAA starts, but striking out no more than two in each of his last four, and giving up fifteen runs between his last two. Jake's done well against Detroit in the past, in limited action (just thirty-eight plate appearances by current Tigers). He has the stuff to succeed, but thus far, not the command, so he'll need to limit walks and battle through high-leverage situations to have a chance at a good outing.

Max Scherzer has been a good pitcher since his 2008 rookie year with the Diamondbacks, but he's taken a big step forward this year. It's probably not a fluke, either, as he's maintaining a very impressive 10.56 K/9 while lowering his BB/9 to a similarly excellent 2.19. He's also averaging a hair under seven innings per start, and he hasn't given up more than three runs in a start since 15 May. The O's will have their work cut out for them.

Maybe hot: Adam Jones (1.400 OPS, 15 PA), Nick Markakis (.899 OPS, 16 PA)

Likely not: J.J. Hardy (.540 OPS, 22 PA)

Tuesday, 18 June: Jason Hammel(?) vs. Justin Verlander
Career Numbers Hammel vs. Tigers Verlander vs. O's
IP 26.1 86.0
ERA 7.18 2.93
FIP 5.64 3.44
Slash Line (Past Teams) .336/.416/.518 .217/.276/.340
Slash Line (Current Players) .330/.404/.568 .193/.238/.289

Jason Hammel is currently recovering from a stomach virus, so he may not make this start, but he's listed as the probable pitcher by MLB, so I'm sticking with his stats here rather than going all TBA on you. If he does start, this will be a rematch of the 1 June game in Baltimore, in which Hammel only lasted three innings, but gave up three homers and three walks. He hasn't been great in either of his last two starts since, and like Arrieta, it's mostly a struggle with his command. Hammel, though, has had three pretty good starts (6.2+ IP, 2 R) in his last five, and has flashed better command at times, so there's still room to hope for a good outing.

Justin Verlander is, well, Justin Verlander. He's not quite as unhittable as usual this year, as his fastball has lost a little velocity, but he's still pitching very well and actually has the highest strikeout rate and lowest FIP/xFIP of his career. His 3.41 ERA is probably due more to poor luck on balls in play, as his current BABIP is .345, well above his career .287. He has, however, give up three-plus runs per game in six of his last seven starts, including that above-mentioned game at Camden Yards.

Maybe hot: Jhonny Peralta (1.433 OPS, 16 PA)

Likely not: Adam Jones (.203 OPS, 25 PA)

Wednesday, 19 June: Chris Tillman vs. Rick Porcello
Career Numbers Tillman vs. Tigers Porcello vs. O's
IP 24.1 36.0
ERA 4.07 4.50
FIP 4.66 3.76
Slash Line (Past Teams) .193/.297/.364 .322/.355/.438
Slash Line (Current Players) .205/.271/.500 .306/.371/.423

Porcello, much like Scherzer, has made some significant improvements this year; he's increased his strikeout rate from 5.46 K/9 to 7.59 and lowered his walk rate from 2.25 BB/9 to 1.67. His mediocre 4.37 ERA doesn't match his peripherals, probably due to more of his flyballs leaving the yard (16%) than you would expect (~10%). This is still the matchup the O's can feel the best about, though, since Porcello is averaging fewer than six innings per start, and they did passably against him earlier this month, scoring thrice in six innings.

They also have Chris Tillman on the mound, who has become their de facto staff ace. I never know what to say about Tillman, besides harping on how homer-prone he is, or how rarely he makes it past six innings because his erratic command quickly burns through his pitch count. Yet despite all his flaws, he's managing a decent ERA for the second year in a row, and is currently the most reliable of the O's starters.

Maybe hot: Nick Markakis (1.161 OPS, 19 PA)

Likely not: Adam Jones (.400 OPS, 15 PA)

There's one thing about the bunt: the defensive team can't stop an excellent sacrifice bunt. If the ball is bunted slowly down one of the foul lines, it's virtually impossible to throw out the lead runner. Then, the defense should be content to get the runner at first. Make sure to get at least one out rather than gambling and not retiring anyone. - Earl Weaver

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