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Game 23: Orioles (14-8) @ Yankees (12-9), 7:05pm

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Jason Hammel puts his astonishingly low ERA on the line tonight against a pack of craven mercenaries who play baseball in a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
Jason Hammel puts his astonishingly low ERA on the line tonight against a pack of craven mercenaries who play baseball in a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

Once, when I remarked on the peculiarity of the lyrics to Maryland, My Maryland, duck responded that they are, in fact, perfect for the present day: spurning the northern scum is a high priority. Tonight, our favorite baseball team goes into the den of those same northern scum, kicking off a stretch of 15 games that includes 5 against the Yankees, 4 against Texas, and 3 apiece vs. Boston and Tampa Bay. How real are they? We can begin to see for ourselves tonight.

Your level of belief in how real the Orioles are probably will determine how good you feel about the beginning of this stretch of games. The most surprising of the surprising Orioles may well be Jason Hammel, sporting a 1.73 ERA over his first four starts. It's quite a jump for a guy whose career ERA is 4.88 over 758 big league innings. Has Hammel suddenly figured something out at age 29 that he had never quite put together before? Or are his numbers merely a product of who he has faced? With two starts against Toronto, Hammel has not just been padding stats against the dregs of the American League.

The Yankees are in a different echelon still, though. As a team, they are batting .276/.354/.479, enough to lead the majors in both OBP and SLG. To be sure, they hit home runs in their absurd bandbox of a stadium, but they also take walks and rip doubles down the line or into outfield gaps. Some of these may be the result of demonic blood pacts, with Derek J***r leading the charge with his .593 SLG where he slugged .388 last season. Nick Swisher sports another eye-popping number, slugging .617 early on. His career slugging percentage is .469. Anyway, the O's won't have to worry about Swisher tonight; he's day-to-day with a hamstring injury and is not in the starting lineup.

So don't be too surprised if Hammel's ERA balloons up closer to expected levels starting tonight.

Orioles hitters will be facing $10,000,000 man Hiroki Kuroda, who's given up 4 home runs in 24.2 IP. The O's, of course, hit a lot of home runs. Kuroda is a righty, and the short porch in the bandbox is there for power lefty batters who pull the ball. That could mean Chris Davis. After his four starts, Kuroda is sporting a 4.38 ERA, which doesn't sound so terrible to you and I only because of the absolute garbage we've seen in recent years. Actually, Kuroda's below the current Yankees staff ERA (4.49 - and by comparison, the O's have a 3.06). Some of that may be the result of bad BABIP luck for the Yanks, but bad BABIP may also be explained by bad fielding. Raul Ibanez (-2.5 runs by UZR), Swisher (-2.7), J***r (-4.5), and Curtis Granderson (-7.2) have all cost New York in the field in early action.

A win tonight would see the Orioles at 7 games over .500 for the first time since July 19, 2005 (a 50-43 record), which was, it turns out, the first loss in a six game losing streak. All the "last over" milestones will be from that '05 campaign for the foreseeable future, and if by some miracle the O's reach a few of them over this seemingly-brutal 15 game stretch, well... I'm not really sure we will know what to do with ourselves.


Lineup

BALTIMORE ORIOLES NEW YORK YANKEES
Nolan Reimold - LF Derek Jeter - SS
J.J. Hardy - SS Curtis Granderson - CF
Nick Markakis - RF Alex Rodriguez - DH
Adam Jones - CF Robinson Cano - 2B
Matt Wieters - C Mark Teixeira - 1B
Chris Davis - 1B Raul Ibanez - RF
Wilson Betemit - 3B Eric Chavez - 3B
Mark Reynolds - DH Russell Martin - C
Robert Andino - 2B Eduardo Nunez - LF