Weather permitting, the best record in Major League Baseball is on the line tonight. The winner is guaranteed at least a share of it. One day after a run differential-ruining loss to the Rangers, the Orioles (still second-best in the AL at +23) will look to Jake Arrieta, a Texan on their own roster, to halt the onslaught before it gets going.
Jake's having himself a heck of a stretch of games to open up the season, a 38.1 IP body of work where he's shown a better K/9 than ever before, and significantly fewer walks than in his career to date. In part thanks to all of this, he's actually sporting a sub-1.00 WHIP. Just barely less at 0.99, but still impressive. One question that remains to be answered is to what extent Jake has merely gotten lucky, with batters hitting only .240 on balls in play against him. Common wisdom suggests this is unsustainably low, though in his career he's managed a .275, so perhaps he is not due for too much of a regression.
The Rangers are sending out converted closer Neftali Feliz. He was their closer for the last two seasons running, with 72 saves between 2010 and 2011, but they believe his greatest value to the team would be as a starter, so he is starting. Early results are mixed. Strikeouts are down and walks are up, a troubling 4.85 BB/9 rate. These have led him to a 3.81 ERA, which is good enough, if not great. Feliz is another who may benefit from luck - his BABIP is even lower at .194, but in his career it's been .215. That is ridiculous. Whether he can keep it up as a starter remains to be seen: with fewer strikeouts than as a reliever, that means more contact, and with a lower average velocity than as a reliever it could mean stronger contact. Not to mention hitters will have chances to adjust against him on second and third trips through the order.
Whether the Orioles lineup will be the one to take advantage of this potential is another story entirely. We will again be treated to Endy Chavez leading off. That's not so good. Then again, there are signs that J.J. Hardy may be heating up, and perhaps so is Mark Reynolds; Adam Jones and Matt Wieters have been consistently awesome, and as for the rest, who knows?
I've made much from those who are saying this is a different Orioles team that avoids losing games it would have lost in past years. Tonight will be a different sort of test, where we find out if the Orioles can avoid a losing streak it would have had in past years. A 14-3 loss is precisely the sort of thing that would kick off a five-game losing streak to erase a five-game winning streak for recent-vintage Orioles teams. We will find out if Jake and the bats can nip this one in the bud.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||TEXAS RANGERS|
|Endy Chavez - LF||Ian Kinsler - 2B|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||Elvis Andrus - SS|
|Nick Markakis - RF||Josh Hamilton - CF|
|Adam Jones - CF||Adrian Beltre - DH|
|Matt Wieters - C||Michael Young - 3B|
|Chris Davis - 1B||David Murphy - LF|
|Wilson Betemit - 3B||Nelson Cruz - RF|
|Mark Reynolds - DH||Mike Napoli - C|
|Robert Andino - 2B||Mitch Moreland - 1B|