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Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles vs. Cincinnati Reds, September 2-4 2014

With a 6-2 record on their current homestand, the Orioles finish it off with a three-game set against the Reds.

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Tuesday, September 2, 7:05 ET: Bud Norris vs. Mat Latos
Norris Latos
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 176.2 135.0 210.2 91.1
ERA 4.18 4.00 3.16 3.15
FIP 3.86 4.12 3.10 3.51
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .283/.349/.429 .251/.321/.399 .247/.305/.363 .224/.279/.340

Norris has struggled in his last two starts (one cut short by a rain delay), surrendering four runs over eight innings. Fortunately, his peripherals are still good, with nine strikeouts versus three walks in that span. FIP may suggest that Norris isn't pitching as well this year as he did last season, but other metrics like xFIP (4.22 in 2013, 4.13 this year) and SIERA (4.19 to 4.01) suggest slight improvement.

Latos missed nearly half of the season recovering from knee surgery in February. He's been quite good since returning, with a very good ERA and solid peripherals, even if he's perhaps lucking out on home runs (6.6% HR/FB). Latos throws lots of fastballs, roughly two-thirds of the time to all batters. Fellow righties get about twice as many four-seamers as sinkers, while lefties see the ratio nearly reversed. Lefties hardly see any offspeed pitches until he's ready to finish them off with his splitter or, a bit less often, his slider. Righties also face the splitter as an out pitch, but they have to deal with sliders in all counts as well. He also has a curveball, which he uses more to mix things up than to finish off batters.

Maybe hot: Brandon Phillips (.945 OPS, 17 PA)

Likely not: Skip Schumaker (.376 OPS, 25 PA)

Wednesday, September 3, 7:05 ET: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Dylan Axelrod
Gonzalez Axelrod
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 171.1 127.0 128.1 11.0
ERA 3.78 3.61 5.68 1.64
FIP 4.45 5.16 5.44 3.85
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .243/.300/.413 .263/.329/.454 .318/.372/.519 .220/.289/.439

Gonzalez has given the O's three straight better-than-minimum quality starts, totaling 19.1 IP, four runs, thirteen strikeouts, and three walks over that span. His home run rate continues to frighten, unfortunately, as he also surrendered three of them in that time, leaving his HR/9 at 1.56 and his HR/FB% at 13.0. There's likely some poor luck involved - unlike FIP, xFIP and SIERA see his performance this year as pretty comparable to his career numbers - but Gonzalez is what he is: homer-prone, yet with a peripheral-defying ERA.

Axelrod spent most of the year in AAA, both before and after being traded by the White Sox. He was called back up to the majors on August 16, so he's only made a couple of starts this year. In that time, the righty has thrown 53% fastballs to all hitters. Against right-handed batters, nearly all of those fastballs are four-seamers, making Axelrod essentially a fastball-slider guy with the rare curve, change, or sinker tossed in for good measure. Versus lefties, his approach is quite different, as he uses sinkers slightly more often than four-seamers. The slider is his preferred out pitch, and he'll throw occasional changeups to keep hitters honest.

Thursday, September 4, 7:05 ET: Chris Tillman vs. Mike Leake
Tillman Leake
Stat 2013 YTD 2013 YTD
IP 206.1 176.2 192.1 186.1
ERA 3.71 3.36 3.37 3.38
FIP 4.42 4.07 4.04 3.64
AVG/OBP/SLG Against .241/.303/.427 .233/.297/.365 .263/.311/.407 .260/.308/.402

Tillman's streak of quality starts ended on Saturday, but he ground through and managed to avoid surrendering more than one run despite allowing nine baserunners in five innings. He hasn't given up more than three earned runs since June 5, nor more than two runs at all since July 29.

Leake hasn't given up a run in his last two starts (13.2 IP), but had a pair of rough outings before then (9 ER, 12 IP). Looking at his peripherals, he's having the best season of his career: he's bumped up his strikeout rate a touch, kept his walk rate below the league average, and pushed his groundball rate over 50%. Leake likes to throw fastballs; roughly 70% of his pitches are heaters. Fellow righties get about a 3:1 ratio of sinkers to cutters, while for lefties, that ratio is more like 3:2. Leake uses his cutter and slider to finish batters off, using an even mix against righties but more cutters versus lefties. All batters will get occasional show-me curveballs, and lefties will also see some changeups on the first pitch or when Leake's behind in the count.

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