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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles @ Toronto Blue Jays, 22-24 April 2014

A split of a four-game set against the Red Sox kept the O's at .500, but they'll either gain or lose ground by the end of this three-game series in Toronto.

Patrick Smith

That Red Sox series was grueling, and coming away just 2-2 is a bit unsatisfying considering the walk-off loss, but at least the Orioles still have a .500 record overall. Toronto is always a scary opponent to face, what with their slugging ways against Baltimore's flyball-prone starting pitchers, but the O's have hit their fair share of longballs at the Rogers Centre in the past, too.

Tuesday, 22 April: Miguel Gonzalez @ R.A. Dickey
Gonzalez Dickey
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 171.1 14.1 224.2 23.0
ERA 3.78 6.28 4.21 6.26
FIP 4.45 6.78 4.58 4.73
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .243/.300/.413 .333/.406/.614 .242/.306/.422 .264/.375/.414

Gonzalez had a rough beginning to his season, but he put together a decent outing in his last start against the Rays, going only five innings but allowing no runs and striking out six. He allowed a pair of home runs in each of his first two starts, and he'll have to keep the ball on the ground more to be effective: his GB% is currently just 23.9, per FanGraphs (for perspective, the league average is currently 45.8%).

Dickey is a well-known knuckleballing comeback story. He has yet to replicate his success as a Met since joining the Blue Jays, however, posting a mediocre ERA and FIP in 2013 (though adding significant value by throwing so many innings) and getting off to a rough start this season. Unsurprisingly, he throws his knuckleball roughly 90% of the time, though so far this year he's been throwing more fastballs to right-handed batters than in the past.

Maybe hot: Chris Davis (.833 OPS, 18 PA)

Likely not: Steve Lombardozzi (.286 OPS, 14 PA), Brett Lawrie (.243 OPS, 17 PA)

Wednesday, 23 April: Chris Tillman @ Dustin McGowan
Tillman McGowan
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 206.1 26.1 25.2 13.0
ERA 3.71 1.71 2.45 4.85
FIP 4.42 3.34 3.67 4.69
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .241/.303/.427 .216/.266/.314 .190/.289/.320 .333/.415/.456

Tillman finally gave up more than one earned run in his last start, allowing three in five innings, the second time already this season in which he's faced Boston and hasn't been able to pitch into the sixth. Hopefully, his high pitch count (122) in that start doesn't limit his effectiveness going forward, and the four walks he issued are just because Boston's lineup is horrifically patient.

McGowan spent 2013 in Toronto's bullpen, but he's back to a starting role this season, and held the Orioles scoreless over 6.1 innings back on the 11th. His other two starts haven't been so successful, as he's surrendered seven runs over 6.2 combined innings. McGowan has pretty different approaches depending on batter handedness. Against lefties, he throws a mix of four- and two-seam fastballs, adding a changeup about 17% of the time and his slider when he's ahead in the count or has two strikes. Versus righties, he uses his four-seam fastball for about half of his pitches, turning only occasionally to his sinker, and using his slider very frequently as long as the batter isn't ahead.

Maybe hot: Colby Rasmus (1.176 OPS, 17 PA)

Likely not: Delmon Young (.369 OPS, 17 PA)

Thursday, 24 April: Bud Norris @ Drew Hutchison
Norris Hutchison
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 176.2 18.1 - 20.0
ERA 4.18 4.42 - 3.60
FIP 3.86 3.90 - 3.33
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .283/.349/.429 .271/.320/.429 - .269/.345/.410

Norris has had one good game, one okay one, and one poor one to start 2014. It probably doesn't mean anything, but perhaps we can take some small comfort in that his good start was seven scoreless innings against Toronto back on the 12th. His peripherals are significantly better than his ERA at the moment, and he's the only starter for Baltimore to post a groundball rate north of 40% so far. It's better than I expected coming into the year, and if Norris can continue to pitch more like a solid #4 starter than a fringy #5, I'll be quite happy.

Hutchison lost part of 2012 and most of 2013 to Tommy John surgery, not seeing any time in the majors last year. He's put up some solid numbers since his return, in particular an outstanding strikeout rate of 27.6% (league-average: 20.9%), and held the Orioles scoreless over six innings when squaring off against Norris earlier in the month. The righty throws four-seam fastballs a little over half of the time to all hitters, adding the occasional two-seamer. Against righties, he'll also turn to his slider in all counts, while against lefties, he saves it for when he's ahead in the count or has two strikes, mixing in changeups instead in other counts.