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Orioles @ Royals series preview: 15-18 May 2014

The Orioles start a four-game series in Kansas City tonight and will hopefully wash the stink from the sweep by the Tigers away with some strong offense and pitching. I don't feel confident about that, but stranger things have certainly happened.

Patrick Smith

The Orioles and Royals are facing off for the second time this season. At home from April 25-27, the Orioles lost two out of three to KC, needing extra innings for their one win. It was a letdown of a series, and hopefully the Orioles can offer some payback in Kansas City.

The O's (20-18) and Royals (20-19) have nearly identical records, but thus far the Royals pitching staff has been quite a bit better. Kansas City's pitching staff has allowed an average of 3.92 runs per game this year, third-best in the American League. The Orioles, on the other hand, are allowing 4.27 which is, surprisingly, 5th best in the A.L. A big difference is in the starting pitching, where the Royals are averaging 6.2 innings per start with a quality start 61% of the time. The Orioles fall quite a bit behind that with 5.8 IP/GS and a measly 35% in the QS department.

Both teams have had trouble scoring runs so far this season with Baltimore 4.05 R/G and Kansas City's 4.03 R/G ranking only above Houston in the American League. They've both been similarly inept at getting on base (.309 for the O's, .311 for KC), but the O's have been a little more successful in the power department.. Overall, the Orioles just edge the Royals in wOBA at .310 to .301.

Thursday, May 15th, 8:10 PM - Wei-Yin Chen vs. Yordano Ventura
Wei-Yin Chen (LHP) Yordano Ventura (RHP)
GS 7 7
IP 41 42.1
ERA 3.95 2.34
FIP 3.14 3.38
BA/OBP/SLG .301/.334/.434 .203/.276/.335

The Orioles faced Ventura earlier this year and it was not pretty. He threw eight shutout innings against them with eight strikeouts and the O's batters looked totally over matched. So far this season he has put together the ridiculous combination of 9.35 K/9 and a 51% ground ball rate, and he's the hardest throwing starting pitcher in the league with an average fastball velocity of 96.1.

Chen was held back to start today in order to give him an extra day's rest and to give him a chance to pitch against a team that struggles against lefties. In his career Chen has a 4.47 ERA with four days rest (28 GS) and 3.97 ERA with five days rest (24 GS). When he has that extra day of rest he pitches deeper into games (5.89 IP vs 6.14), has a lower OPS against (.788 vs .712), and his walk rate drops from 7.5% to 6%. So all in all, it's a good thing when Chen gets an extra day. As mentioned, the Royals struggle against lefties, hitting just .234/.297/.373 in 654 PA.

Friday, May 16th, 8:10 PM - Chris Tillman vs Jeremy Guthrie
Chris Tillman (RHP) Jeremy Guthrie (RHP)
GS 8 8
IP 47.2 50.2
ERA 3.97 4.80
FIP 4.59 5.82
BA/OBP/SLG .242/.314/.488 .268/.316/.485

Chris Tillman and I aren't on the best of terms right now. After starting the season looking like the best pitcher on the staff, he has pretty much fallen apart. After pitching back-to-back starts of at least eight innings, Tillman has pitched five games where batters hit .282/.368/.482 against him. He has averaged less than 5 1/3 innings per game and has put up a 6.49 ERA. Simply put, he's been dreadful.

As for Guthrie, he's been the homer-prone Guts we all so many times when he was with the Orioles. He has given up 11 home runs this season, most in the American League. That's an average of two home runs every nine innings. He has only had two starts this season in which he didn't give up a home run, and of course one of them was on April 26th when he pitched seven innings against the Orioles.

Saturday, May 17th, 7:10 PM - Bud Norris vs. Danny Duffy
Bud Norris (RHP) Danny Duffy (LHP)
G/GS 7/7 8/2
IP 43 18.1
ERA 3.98 1.96
FIP 4.68 3.37
BA/OBP/SLG .248/.324/.420 .148/.293/.197

Danny Duffy started the season in the bullpen, but moved into the rotation when our old friend Bruce Chen went on the disabled list. He has made two starts in which he has given up just one run in each, but in those two starts struggled with his control with seven walks in 10 innings. You may remember Duffy from the last series between these two teams. He hit the first batter he saw and then made back-to-back throwing errors on sacrifice bunts to set up the Orioles walk off win.

Norris is the kind of pitcher that looks a lot worse in the box scores than he has often looked on the mound. In his most recent start he cruised through seven innings before giving up a walk, a two-run homer, and hitting a batter in the eighth. It seemed odd that he was still out there in the first place, and the Orioles paid for it. But overall Bud has been a pleasant surprise (to me, at least) in the starting rotation.

Sunday, May 18th, 2:10 PM - Ubaldo Jimenez vs. James Shields
Ubaldo Jimenez (RHP) James Shields (RHP)
GS 8 9
IP 47 60.1
ERA 4.02 2.54
FIP 4.27 3.16
BA/OBP/SLG .258/.347/.376 .232/.285/.342

James Shields is good at baseball, y'all. The Orioles saw that firsthand when he shut them down over seven innings on April 27th. He's coming off of a very good start against the Rockies in which he struck out eight in seven innings with just one run allowed. The Orioles have a lot of experience with Shields thanks to his time in the A.L. East. He has made 25 starts against the Orioles over his career with a 3.51 ERA and a hitting line against of .247/.299/.398. Nick Markakis has 78 career plate appearances against Shields and has been pretty good, hitting .294/.385/.456.

When you look at Jimenez's numbers above, know that he has recently been much better and we're all hoping that he just had a case of the April blues. In his last three starts, Jimenez has gotten his strikeout numbers up, his walks down, and has just looked like a completely different pitcher. In his first five start, Jimenez had 17 walks and 21 strikeouts. In his last three he has five walks and 20 strikeouts. You most recently remember him from the game when he pitched his ass off for seven innings only to see Tommy Hunter piss it away in the ninth inning. If he can keep up his May numbers, this series finale could be quite the pitchers' duel.