Two straight series sweeps was probably a bit much to hope for, but a five-for-six stretch is nothing to complain about. We'd better get used to touring baseball's Central divisions, because the Orioles will be playing them for a while: after this Tigers series, they'll face the Royals, Pirates, Indians, and Brewers.
Monday, 12 May, 7:05 P.M.: Bud Norris vs. Rick Porcello
Norris had to battle through his last start, walking four Rays over 5.2 innings. He allowed only two runs and struck out five, however, and that's about as good as you can expect if a guy's having significant control problems. The difference between Norris's ERA and FIP looks a bit worrisome, but his HR/FB rate (13.9%) is a bit higher than one would expect (career: 10.9%), so he's probably been a little unlucky on flyballs thus far, driving up his FIP.
Porcello has the best ERA of his career so far, with an even lower FIP to match. Part of his success this year is based on a very low walk rate (1.4 BB/9), which approaches Ueharan levels and is much lower than Porcello's career average (2.26 BB/9). Surprisingly, he's doing this with an unusually low groundball rate (43.9%; career 52.5%). This may be because the righty seems to have changed his approach a bit from last year, throwing significantly fewer sinkers to same-handed batters (55% in 2013, 42% this year) and substituting more sliders and four-seamers. Against lefties, he'll throw a roughly even mix of four-seamers, sinkers, curves, and changeups, using the four-seamer to start at-bats, the change if he gets behind, and the curve to finish them off.
Maybe hot: Nick Markakis (1.099 OPS, 25 PA)
Likely not: Nelson Cruz (.348 OPS, 23 PA)
Tuesday, 13 May, 7:05 P.M.: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Drew Smyly
Jimenez wasn't able to duplicate his stellar effort in Minnesota, but he still had his second-best start of the year, allowing one run over 5.1 innings against Tampa Bay. He did allow nine baserunners, however, so he had to weave out of trouble a few times, and his 2:3 K:BB ratio wasn't so good. Still, at least Bad Ubaldo spared us his presence for one more start.
Smyly is back in Detroit's rotation after spending all of 2013 and the first week or so of this season in the bullpen. His ERA looks very good, but he's getting pretty lucky on balls in play (.257 BABiP, career .288) and is stranding a lot more runners than one would expect. Smyly, a lefty, threw four-seam fastballs and cutters 85% of the time last year, dropping in a curve for the rest. This year, he's throwing the curve a lot more and trying to disrupt right-handed batters' timing with occasional changeups (8%). He throws first-pitch four-seamers very reliably, nearly 75% of the time regardless of batter handedness.
Wednesday, 14 May, 12:35 P.M.: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Justin Verlander
While Chris Tillman has gotten all the buzz thanks to his pair of eight-plus-inning stints in April, Chen has quietly put together the best season of any O's starter so far, already rating 1.1 WAR and just beating out Tillman in ERA. He's managed to cut down on walks a little compared to the last two years, and his groundball rate is over 40% for the first time since he came to the U.S. His ERA is nearly a run higher than his FIP, and while he's gotten a little lucky on flyballs so far (7.0% HR/FB vs. 10.6% career), he's been unlucky on balls in play more generally (.351 BABIP vs. .295 career). The main trouble with Chen is knowing when to pull him, because once he gets tired, he tends to fall apart rather than slowly decline. Managing seven innings in two of his last three starts probably isn't a sign that's changed, since those were against the Astros and Royals.
Verlander's numbers look about as intimidating as ever, but there are some chinks in the armor this time around. His strikeout (7.17 K/9) and walk (3.50 BB/9) rates are the worst they've been since 2008, and he's gotten very lucky on flyballs so far (1.5% HR/FB). Camden Yards would be a nice place for the inevitable regression to happen. Verlander's pitching about the same as last year, throwing fastballs just over half of the time to both righties and lefties. Against righties, he'll throw sliders in any count, mixing in occasional curveballs and rare changeups. Against lefties, the righty throws the change to get ahead and turns to his curveball for the strikeout.
Maybe hot: J.J. Hardy (.853 OPS, 35 PA)
Likely not: Adam Jones (.423 OPS, 32 PA)