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Orioles vs. Rangers: Series Preview

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The Orioles' road trip continues as they head to Arlington, TX for a three game series against the Rangers.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Story So Far:

You know what's weird about this team? Before the season started, if you had given a prediction for how things would have to play out for them to repeat as division champs, what would you have said? Chris Davis gets closer to his 2013 performance? Manny Machado has a healthy season and looks like a young superstar again? Ubaldo Jimenez rebounds from his disastrous 2014? The bullpen continues to be one of the best in the league? Aren't all those things true? Conversely, for things to play out badly you might have predicted the team fails to replace Markakis and Cruz and the starting pitching crashes back down to the talent level everyone keeps saying they are. I suppose those things have happened too. Maybe that's how we've ended up at 63-64, right in the middle. For every good thing that's happened, there's been something to drag it down. But for all that, they're still 2.5 games back of the second Wild Card, and while its tough to like their chances with so many other teams bunched up with them, the playoffs are a crapshoot and all you need to do is get in.

The Rangers are one of those teams bunched up with the O's in the Wild Card race. They're currently 65-61 and tied with Minnesota for the 2nd spot. Acquiring Cole Hamels seemed like an odd move for this team, but it sure looks smart now. And to think they're going to have him next year as well when Yu Darvish comes back...

Pitching Matchups:

Friday: Kevin Gausman vs. Cole Hamels

...and hey, look who the Orioles get first. Maybe it's not that bad though - Hamels has been good this season, but not dominant. His 3.53 FIP and 3.33 K/BB aren't Cy Young numbers. He's also allowing 1.7 HR per nine innings. The O's don't have much experience against him, except for Paul Janish who has 12 AB over the last five years. Weird.

As for Gausman, his 3.88 FIP and 3.88 K/BB are in line with Hamels, and he's giving up home runs at a lower rate as well (1.2 per nine innings). With the way this offense has been lately, I wouldn't worry about that 2-5 record. Just look out for Prince Fielder (3-for-5 including a home run).

Saturday: Ubaldo Jimenez vs. Martin Perez

That stuff I wrote above about Jimenez having a bounce-back season? It hasn't seemed like it lately, but I still think it's true. His last several starts have been disappointing though. Is it just me or does it seem like he's has Bud Norris-itis? (too soon?). He can coast along fine, but as soon as something breaks the wrong way for him he just melts down. I don't know - it's not great, but if he had pitched like this last year the O's would have won at least 100 games.

Martin Perez has a 5.30 ERA and a 3.04 FIP, but he's only pitched 37.1 innings this year, so small sample sizes apply. Still, that gap is certainly also driven by the fact that Perez hasn't given up a home run this season. And when you look at last year, he only gave up three over 51.1 innings. And when you look at his ratio pitching numbers, it's obvious this guy gets a lot of ground balls. Fortunately, the Rangers are second in the AL in errors with 93. If the O's want to beat this guy they need to look at making contact, bunting, forcing the defense to make plays...basically playing small ball. If you notice guys swinging for the fences in the first inning, settle in for a long night.

Sunday: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Derek Holland

I can't even with Gonzalez anymore. Hopefully Tyler Wilson or Mike Wright gets better soon and they can come in September and relieve this guy because - no. It's done. I know there are a lot of Gonzalez fans out there, and while I certainly have nothing against him, I just don't get it. He's always been a guy that's outperformed his numbers and this year it seems to be catching up to him.

Holland hasn't pitched much this year and has been pretty unremarkable when he has. Unlike Perez though, this guy seems to love giving up home runs. He's given up five in 13.1 innings so far this season, and as another lefty, look for the O's power right-handers to go after him.

Other Notes:

- Everyone else has gotten their chance this season, why not Dariel Alvarez? Reports are he's being called up for the start of this series and its probably time to find out what he's got. His .275/.305/.424 and 16 HR for Norfolk this year aren't great, so we'll see.

- Globe Life Park ranks as the third-best hitters park in the majors per parkfactors.com. Here's what they have to say about it: "A spacious and almost symmetrical field, Rangers Ballpark has quite deep and flattened power alleys (390 and 377 feet) but earns a reputation as a hitters park due to the thin Texas air and the lack of foul territory."

- The Rangers' Pythagorean expectation is 59 wins. They have 65. The Orioles' expectation is 69 wins. They have 63. Sometimes baseball is unfair.

- It's probably worth noting it was the Rangers who ended that good streak the O's had back in June and brought about one of the worst stretches I've seen from this team in years. Before their first meeting this season, the Orioles were 41-34, had just swept the Indians, and were tied for the division lead. The Rangers came to Baltimore and made winning three of four looke easy. And it was - for the Rangers. Including that series the Orioles would finish up the first half with a 3-10 record and things have never really been the same in Birdland.

Prediction:

Two things working against the team in this series: the Rangers are above .500 and the Orioles are on the road. Their record in both those situations is terrible this year and I don't see how you can say it will get any better. O's lose two of three.