As difficult as it might be to believe, we can officially count down the days until Orioles Opening Day on one hand. The wait has been an unusually lengthy one, aided by a rather dreary spring, and it couldn't be a more perfect time to roll into Monday's first game against the Minnesota Twins.
By now, we've endlessly drowned ourselves in primary Orioles storylines. Whether it be Miguel Gonzalez's ERA that has looked like my mile time (on a good day) or Hyun Soo Kim attempting to set the longest 0-for streak in O's spring training history, we've covered it all.
Now, it's time to set sights toward the regular season - ready or not. First up, Minnesota and their first trip east to Camden Yards. If we're lucky, the Orioles will manage to win a game against the Twins this season, maybe even this series.
Here's a quick look at the Twins rotation and what you can expect from them when they visit Birdland at the start of next week.
The @Twins have announced their rotation for opening series at Baltimore:— Dustin Morse (@Twins_morsecode) March 23, 2016
4/4 RHP Ervin Santana
4/6 RHP Kyle Gibson
4/7 RHP Phil Hughes
As expected, the Orioles will get the trio of Santana, Gibson and Hughes to begin the season. All three will provide some challenges, but nothing overpowering that can completely stifle the lineup. There shouldn't be any problem getting runs across the dish with the potentially lethal O's one through nine.
Santana comes in as the "ace" of the Minnesota staff, his second season after being on a different team in every year from 2012-2015 (LAA, KC, ATL, MIN). Overall, he hovers around the league averages in most categories, consistently being a classic "good but not great" arm since his 2008 all-star campaign with the Angels.
At 33 years old, Santana enters the year with fly-ball tendencies and a slider-heavy arsenal. He consistently throws it roughly 35 percent of the time, countering nicely with his low-to-mid-90s fastball. For a righty, his stuff isn't lethal - but it does the trick to keep the hitter's eyes off balance.
During his recent time bouncing around the league, Santana hasn't seen much of the Orioles with just 14 innings since 2012. But if the numbers and trends hold true, there's no reason the Opening Day lineup can't put up a few crooked numbers once 3:05 Monday afternoon rolls around.
Gibson, oddly enough, could put his career numbers up against Santana's and come up pretty close to his fellow right-hander's stats. His strikeout numbers are a bit lower, but he grades out to roughly the league averages across the board.
Last year, the Orioles got two looks at the 6'6" Gibson, attaining results that line up similarly to his overall numbers. In 11.2 innings, the lineup got 12 hits and four runs, walking five times with nine strikeouts - not massive production but enough to confidently enter next Wednesday's game with a chance to do damage.
Like Santana, Gibson isn't heavily reliant on his fastball. He'll use the low-90s pitch a bit more than half the time, but stays steady with both a slider and a changeup that do the most damage. He won't do too much with the fastball in general, probably why his usage of the pitch has gone down from 69% in 2013 to just about 58% last year.
Summed up, the junk that will be coming from Santana could be out-done by Gibson's pitch selection on Wednesday night.
Hughes has been around the block a few times, facing off against the Orioles for six starts in the last three seasons. Like the duo in front of him, he isn't expected to put up flashy numbers this season ... through the last four full years, he's been prone to giving up more than a hit per inning and quite a few long balls.
What stands out with Hughes is the low walk rate that he's put up through the past two seasons. His hits/9 ratio continues to be high, but command has seen an impressive improvement since the start of 2014. Pounding the strike zone has been his greatest attribute - perhaps not always a plus in the late innings.
He sits as the third guy in Minnesota's rotation for a reason: he's a boom or bust starter every time he hits the mound.
He gave up 29 home runs in 27 games last season, picking up a HR/9 rate of 1.5 or above in three of four years. Much of that comes from his exceptionally low ground-ball rate, a number that has hovered around between 30-35 percent over the course of his entire career. The Birds' lineup digs the long ball; they could get the hit parade started on Thursday in hitter-friendly Camden Yards.
Welcome to the 2016 season, you dedicated fanatics. The wait you've endured for Opening weekend has been admirable ... perhaps you'll be rewarded with a series win against the Twins to kick off the year right!