Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles @ Tampa Bay Rays, 6-8 May 2014

Rob Carr

After a disappointing series loss in Minnesota, the O's head to Tropicana Field for three games against the Rays.

After the two-game mini-sweep of the Pirates, the three-game set against the Twins was looking like a good chance to pad the Orioles' AL East lead. While they lost that series, they're still tied for first. With any luck, the O's can win this series before taking a month off from playing teams in their own division.

Tuesday, 6 May, 7:10 P.M.: Chris Tillman @ Chris Archer
Tillman Archer
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 206.1 36.2 128.2 35.1
ERA 3.71 3.68 3.22 4.84
FIP 4.42 4.04 4.07 2.83
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .241/.303/.427 .250/.311/.412 .226/.292/.368 .270/.322/.358

Tillman's run into some trouble in his last couple of starts, surrendering seven runs to the Blue Jays on April 23rd and then lasting just 4.2 innings against the Pirates on May 1st. There are a few signs that this rough patch isn't as bad as it looks, though. For one, in both starts, he's given up runs early, but then settled down - whether it's simply Buck having more confidence in Tillman or a genuine improvement, it's not like he's been knocked out entirely after one or two innings. Second, he's struck out fifteen batters in 10.1 innings over those two starts, and while the five walks he's allowed in that time are more than you'd like to see, that's still a very good ratio.

Archer's in a bit of a rough stretch as well, allowing four-plus runs in each of his last two starts and walking five in his most recent. The O's roughed him up for seven runs over five innings back on April 14th, too, so that's three of his last four starts that haven't been so good. The righty throws about 60% fastballs to batters regardless of handedness, preferring his four-seamer early in the count and his two-seamer once he gets ahead. Archer will go to his slider most of the rest of the time, especially as a strikeout pitch, and only occasionally mixes in a changeup against lefties.

Maybe hot: J.J. Hardy (1.000 OPS, 10 PA), Evan Longoria (1.481 OPS, 27 PA)

Likely not: Adam Jones (.100 OPS, 10 PA), Desmond Jennings (.445 OPS, 14 PA)

Wednesday, 7 May, 7:10 P.M.: Bud Norris @ Cesar Ramos
Norris Ramos
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 176.2 29.2 67.1 21.2
ERA 4.18 3.94 4.14 2.91
FIP 3.86 4.53 3.70 4.27
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .277/.339/.415 .274/.333/.451 .256/.315/.372 .195/.319/.286

Norris's last couple of starts have been okay, but only just: a bare-minimum quality start (6 IP, 3 ER) on April 24th, followed by a 5.1 IP, one-run outing on May 1st. Norris seems to be struggling to put guys away this year, posting a below-average strikeout rate and failing to get deep into games despite a reasonable 1.28 WHIP. Yesterday's off-day will have helped, but with the bullpen strained over the last several games, the O's could really use a few longer outings from their starters this week.

Ramos has been a reliever for most of his career, but with Matt Moore and Alex Cobb both hitting the DL in April, he's getting a chance to start some games. So far, it's been a mixed bag: he's allowed five runs over 16.2 innings, which is pretty good, but he's walked twelve batters while striking out just ten, and those innings are over four starts. For a career reliever, he's not doing badly, but the peripherals do not inspire confidence. Ramos is primarily a sinkerball pitcher, throwing them 50% of the time to batters last year, though he's mixing up his pitches more this season. The lefty throws the odd four-seamer and curveball as well, but prefers his slider against lefties and his changeup against righties.

Maybe hot: James Loney (1.226 OPS, 19 PA)

Likely not: Ryan Hanigan (.606 OPS, 12 PA)

Thursday, 6 May, 7:10 P.M.: Ubaldo Jimenez @ David Price
Jimenez Price
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 182.2 34.2 186.2 48.2
ERA 3.30 5.19 3.33 4.44
FIP 3.43 4.85 3.03 3.36
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .239/.317/.367 .265/.355/.412 .252/.281/.379 .217/.291/.458

April ended, and Jimenez finally had a good start, striking out ten over 7.1 innings and allowing just four baserunners on May 2nd. Whether that had more to do with facing the Twins than a real improvement is a fair question, but it's still good to see. It's a little too far into the season to shrug off early struggles as just that, and with the rest of the rotation struggling to get deep into games, the O's could really use some more outings from Jimenez that match his salary.

Don't let the ERA fool you: David Price is still good. He's striking out more than a batter per inning so far this year, while walking fewer than one per nine innings. He has, however, been allowing a lot of home runs, about 50% more than the league average and twice as many as you'd expect based on his career rates. Price's BABiP is unusually high this year, too, currently sitting at .333, versus a career average of .282. Chances are, that high ERA is just bad luck: it's possible that he is becoming more hittable as his velocity declines, but it's far too early in the season to jump to that kind of conclusion. Price is still mostly a fastball pitcher, throwing four-seamers, sinkers, and cutters 70% of the time or more, keeping right-handed batters off-balance with frequent changeups, and occasionally dropping in a curve against both righties and lefties.

Maybe hot: Matt Wieters (1.020 OPS, 41 PA), Yunel Escobar (1.005 OPS, 23 PA)

Likely not: Adam Jones (.531 OPS, 42 PA), James Loney (.592 OPS, 53 PA)

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