Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles @ Cleveland Indians, 2-4 September 2013

This is roughly my expression when contemplating the O's playoff chances. - Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After going 2-4 so far on the road trip, the O's will try to win a series against the Indians, who are also in the Wild Card hunt.

A pair of series losses later, the Orioles are somehow still in the Wild Card race, three games back of Tampa Bay. The Indians are just half a game behind the O's in that hunt, so while a break from the AL East, this series is not a break from contending teams. They basically need to be a game better than the Rays each week for the rest of the season; that doesn't sound that bad until you realize that if Tampa Bay averages a 4-3 record each week, the O's have to go 5-2. On to Cleveland!

Monday, 2 September: Bud Norris vs. Justin Masterson
Career Numbers Norris vs. Indians Masterson vs. O's
IP - 63.0
ERA - 4.71
FIP - 3.41
Slash Line (Past Teams) - .255/.318/.370
Slash Line (Current Players) .174/.345/.217 .259/.312/.384

As a wise man once said, this deal is getting worse all the time. That may be a little harsh - Norris's peripherals suggest he's pitched better than his 4.91 ERA with the O's - but he hasn't lasted six innings or more for nearly a month. He's never faced the Indians, and has only seen Drew Stubbs for more than three plate appearances (.686 OPS, 17 PA).

Masterson is having a good year, striking out just under a batter per inning and getting an absurdly high groundball rate (58%). He's also thrown three shutouts this year and has just three starts in which he's failed to go at least six innings. One day, the O's will have somebody like that on their staff. They did manage to rough up Masterson back on 25 June, though, when he imploded in the seventh inning and gave up homers to Chris Davis (yawn) and Alexi Casilla (Wait, what?).

Maybe hot: Alexi Casilla (1.010 OPS, 31 PA)

Likely not: Nick Markakis (.410 OPS, 28 PA), Matt Wieters (.499 OPS, 23 PA)

Tuesday, 3 September: Chris Tillman vs. Ubaldo Jimenez
Career Numbers Tillman vs. Indians Jimenez vs. O's
IP 20.2 5.1
ERA 4.79 3.38
FIP 5.27 6.85
Slash Line (Past Teams) .265/.319/.458 .348/.400/.609
Slash Line (Current Players) .281/.338/.484 .241/.294/.443

Tillman played the stopper in Boston last week, giving up two runs over seven innings and helping the O's avoid being swept. His numbers against Cleveland aren't pretty, but he's only faced them four times, and two of those were bad starts back in 2009. Tillman faced Masterson in the game mentioned above, going seven innings and allowing only three runs despite walking four.

Jimenez is having his first solid year with the Indians, with his ERA, FIP, and xFIP all right around four. He walks a lot of batters (4.65 BB/9), but strikes out just over a batter per inning, so he often can get away with poor control. Jimenez doesn't get deep into games reliably, averaging 5.4 innings per start and having as many sub-five IP outings as over-six ones. He faced the O's back on 24 June, and despite allowing ten baserunners and two homers in 5.1 innings, managed to escape with just two runs allowed.

Maybe hot: Nick Swisher (.929 OPS, 20 PA)

Likely not: Nate McLouth (.360 OPS, 25 PA)

Wednesday, 4 September: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Zach McAllister
Career Numbers Gonzalez vs. Indians McAllister vs. O's
IP 17.2 13.1
ERA 3.06 3.38
FIP 4.91 4.45
Slash Line (Past Teams) .286/.342/.543 .235/.250/.471
Slash Line (Current Players) .250/.376/.482 .225/.262/.400

Gonzalez is perhaps finally showing why Buck Showalter has talked a lot about trying to limit his innings, having had as many bad starts as good since the All-Star break. We all got a bit spoiled by his consistency in the first half of the year, and this regression is to be expected. But he's still turned out to be a great pickup by the O's front office - imagine the state of the rotation without him. Gonzalez has been a bit homer-prone in his limited action against Cleveland thus far, allowing four homers in 17.2 innings, but has also struck out nineteen batters in those appearances.

McAllister has been having a pretty solid year, with a 3.81 ERA and a 3.82 FIP to match. Some of that success, however, appears to be a result of being a flyball pitcher (37.2 GB%) with a questionably low home run rate (6.3 HR/FB%). He's rarely dominant, with only one start this year in which he hasn't allowed at least one run, but he's rarely awful as well, with just three starts in which he's allowed more than three runs. He faced the O's a couple of times last year, with mixed results: three homers allowed in 13.1 IP, but twelve strikeouts and just five runs surrendered.

I realize that people have feelings, and I don't enjoy hurting people's feelings when I have to take them out of a game. But just because a guy is bothered when he's lifted for a pinch hitter, it doesn't necessarily mean he's sensitive. When there are twenty-four players who think the manager should pinch-hit and one player who thinks the manager shouldn't, that one player is not looking at it realistically. A guy may be oh-for-twenty-two and his teammates may be saying, "Boy, this guy is killing us," yet he's angry when the manager benches him. Now, is that being more sensitive or less intelligent? - Earl Weaver

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