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Orioles vs. Athletics: Series Preview

The Orioles return home from a tough road trip -- how does their first series back at Camden Yards line up?

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that wasn't much fun, was it?  It was probably inevitable that the west coast trip would be a tough one, but that was about as debilitating as a 4-5 road trip could possibly feel.  When I previewed the Mariners series in this space, I wrote that Hisashi Iwakuma "would be the toughest draw of the series, if he ends up starting."  Nailed it.  At least some of us can enjoy a consolation free pizza thanks to the hacktastic O's offense.  Our tears will be like an extra free topping.

So now, the Orioles return home 5.5 games out of the East (and in fourth place), and two games out of the second wild card.  You can say that two games is entirely doable with 49 games to play.  You can also say that the Orioles are one game over .500, and they keep losing series against the teams they're chasing, and they just got no-hit to close a series loss against a sub-.500 club.  It's a glass half empty/glass half full of warm, flat, day-old Bud Light sort of thing.

But for now, the Orioles are going to start up four games against the A's at home.  Maybe they'll give us some false hope.

Friday, 7pm: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. TBD

The A's starter for the opening game is up in the air.  Sonny Gray skipped his start yesterday with back spasms, so Jesse Chavez, who was scheduled to start tonight, started last night instead.  Gray may start tonight, or he may get pushed back further or skipped altogether, in which case the A's would need to call up a starter.  You never want a player to be hurt, but since Gray's back is already bothering him, it's OK to want the team to play it safe, right?  The Orioles don't really need to face Gray and his 2.06 ERA right after getting no-hit.

The Orioles, meanwhile, hand the ball to Ubaldo Jimenez.  After a first half where Ubaldo looked like he might merit that big contract, he turned in some real clunkers after the All-Star Break.  Then he pitched eight shutout innings against Anaheim.  So which Ubaldo will show up tonight? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Saturday, 7pm: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Chris Bassitt

If you haven't noticed, Miguel Gonzalez has been struggling of late.  In his last three starts, he's struggled with command and velocity, gotten batted around and been lifted early.  This would be a great time for him to right the ship, but I'm truly worried that he has a mechanical or health problem that won't suddenly resolve itself.  I suspect the Orioles may have skipped a start for Miguel if they had a better option around, which they don't with Tyler Wilson hitting the minor league DL.

The A's will turn to Chris Bassitt, who just pitched seven shutout innings against the Orioles in Oakland, and who's sporting a 2.27 ERA since moving into the major league rotation at the end of June.

Ain't much of a good spin to put on this matchup, at least on paper.

Sunday, 1:30pm: Wei-Yin Chen vs. Kendall Graveman

Hey, look, a matchup that might favor the Orioles!  Chen is coming off of a solid start against the Mariners (7 1/3 IP, 1 ER), although he wasn't superb against the A's in Oakland.  He's really emerged, if not as a stopper, as the starter least likely to self-immolate at any given time for the Orioles.

Kendall Graveman takes the bump for the A's, and so far he has pitched to a perfectly average 100 ERA+.  The Orioles managed to get three earned runs off of him in Oakland, and to chase him after 5 2/3 innings.  So there's no reason they shouldn't hang enough runs on him to support a decent Chen start.  Well, no reason except that this offense can play dead faster than an interstate armadillo.

Monday, 7pm: Aaron Brooks vs. Chris Tillman

Aaron Brooks is the announced starter for the A's, though you have to assume he's the first guy who'll get skipped if the Sonny Gray situation resolves itself with Gray's start getting pushed back a couple more days.  The A's picked up Brooks from the Royals, and he's made three starts, good for a 5.63 ERA so far.  His small-sample-size peripherals aren't as bad as that ERA would indicate, but I still doubt that it's a priority for the A's to pitch him.  But the Orioles probably hope they do.

And then there's Chris Tillman.  Tillman looked like he was finally getting into top-of-the-rotation form before turning his ankle against Atlanta.  After pushing his start back a few days, he made it back and stunk up the joint against Seattle, putting up a Tommy Hunter special (Five Runs, All Earned), his first start allowing more than two earned runs since June.  Hopefully, it was just a blip from the disruption in his routine, or some lingering ankle problems affecting his delivery.  Monday is when we'll find out.

The Bottom Line

It's hard to be optimistic about this series just because of what came before it, but it's also hard to be optimistic even when you try to look at it dispassionately.  Best outcome?  The Orioles don't see Gray, Tillman and Gonzalez get their crap together, and the offense finds its stroke at least against guys like Graveman and Brooks, and the team pushes closer to the playoff picture again.  Likely outcome?  The Orioles split the series in some random way, continuing to tread water and provide a thin basis for false hope.  Worst outcome?  Well, that's obvious, and maybe more likely than anyone would care to admit right now.