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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles @ Pittsburgh Pirates, 20-21 May 2014

After losing two to the Royals and leaving Kansas City with a series split, the O's had an off-day before heading to Pittsburgh for a pair of games.

Mitchell Layton

It's been an up-and-down May for Orioles fans, but as much as it's been frustrating of late, they're still 10-8 on the month. The last time the O's played the Pirates, the Birds swept a doubleheader. The pitching matchups, though, make a series split look more likely.

Tuesday, 20 May, 7:05 P.M.: Miguel Gonzalez @ Francisco Liriano
Gonzalez Liriano
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 171.1 39.2 161.0 48.2
ERA 3.78 4.76 3.02 4.25
FIP 4.45 4.96 2.92 3.81
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .243/.300/.413 .274/.347/.478 .224/.297/.314 .243/.322/.384

Gonzalez got bumped to the bullpen for one swing through the rotation, but he returns to starting tonight. It was a bit odd, since he was coming off of perhaps his best part of the season, but Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette know a lot more about what's going on than we do. Gonzalez has been a bit unlucky with the home run ball this year (HR/FB: 13.2% vs. 11.1% career), and he's also finally had his previous luck on balls in play normalize (.310 this year vs. .260 in '12 and '13). If there's a silver lining to his struggles, it's that his strikeout rate is significantly higher than in the past (~17% in '12-'13, ~20% in '14), but his walk rate has also risen, so it's a bit of a wash right now.

Liriano was outstanding last year, mostly because he managed to get his walk rate under 10% and got a little lucky on flyballs staying in the park. This year, his walk rate's gone up a bit, and he's also had some poor luck with homers. Still, he's a lefty that gets a lot of strikeouts, the O's don't take a lot of walks, and Gonzalez has struggled this year. It's hard to feel good about this matchup. Liriano is basically a sinker-slider guy against lefties, and this year, he's actually thrown sliders more than half of the time against them. Versus righties, he throws a roughly even mix of sinkers, sliders, and changeups.

Maybe hot: Adam Jones (1.133 OPS, 15 PA)

Likely not: J.J. Hardy (.516 OPS, 14 PA)

Wednesday, 21 May, 7:05 P.M.: Chris Tillman @ Wandy Rodriguez
Tillman Rodriguez
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 206.1 56.2 62.2 25.0
ERA 3.71 3.34 3.59 6.84
FIP 4.42 4.27 4.42 6.99
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .241/.303/.427 .231/.298/.371 .240/.286/.421 .291/.336/.641

Tillman's last start was his first career shutout. It's a nice thing to see from a pitcher who tends to struggle to get deep into games, and even better considering that he walked five batters in the prior start. Whether his success was a real step forward or merely a product of facing a poor offense remains to be seen.

Rodriguez's poor numbers this year are rather eye-popping, in particular that .641 SLG against him. Roughly a quarter of flyballs he allows are leaving the yard this year, which is surely an unsustainable rate, though one has to wonder how much of that is luck vs. poor pitching. Rodriguez also is recovering from some injury issues, as he spent a month on the disabled list with a knee injury before coming back to make a start on the 15th. The lefty throws fastballs about sixty percent of the time to all batters, showing more sinkers than four-seamers in previous years but giving lefties more four-seamers in '14. A curveball is his primary offspeed pitch, and it's his go-to out pitch against both righties and lefties, but he'll throw a changeup to righties as well, mostly when he ends up behind in the count.

Maybe hot: J.J. Hardy (.972 OPS, 25 PA)

Likely not: Nelson Cruz (.639 OPS, 12 PA)