Despite riding a roller coaster with more dives than highs, the Orioles managed to come out of Arlington somewhat unscathed. Mark Trumbo's two home run, five RBI 7th inning on Friday night contributed to him being named Co-Player of the Week alongside the s'cute Jose Altuve. Just as J.J. Watt once said to Ray Rice, I'm sure Trumbo has eaten burritos bigger than Altuve, but that's what makes baseball so grand. It is truly any man's game.
Though it won't be easy to immediately erase the memory of Chris Tillman's unfortunate fire-breathing BABIP dragon of a 6th inning on Thursday, or Buck Showalter's frustrating decision to allow Yovani Gallardo to continue into the 7th inning on Saturday, but at 8-3 after the team's first 11 games, the Orioles have been more fun than not, so fret we shan't.
What better way to get the baseball juices flowing again than a weekday series with your new least favorite team? Arriving in Baltimore are the Blue Jays, a team that has yet to hit their stride offensively, but is seeing continued growth from their youngsters on the mound.
Blue Jays Overview (ML rank)
Runs per game: 4.00 (17th)
Team ERA: 3.58 (10th)
Team slash: .227/.297/.384
Team OPS+: 97 (16th)
Team K%: 19.4% (19th)
Opposing HR/FB: 8.2% (6th)
1. Kevin Pillar, CF
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
5. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
6. Russell Martin, C
7. Justin Smoak, 1B
8. Michael Saunders, LF
9. Ryan Goins, 2B
Game 1 Probables
Marcus Stroman (2-0, 4.22 ERA) vs. Mike Wright (1-0, 7.20 ERA)
Stroman is following the predicted script of his anticipated breakout, and the 5'8 firecracker is likely to prove as the Orioles' toughest test of the series. Owning an early 65.2 GB%, Stroman is going to cut it, sink it, slide it, curve it and change it without fear of count or situation. Having nearly abandoned the four-seam fastball, Stroman's consistent avoidance of the barrel of the bat has been the key to his success so far in April. Stroman wears his emotions far beyond his sleeve, and given the recent bad-blood between the two clubs, we may see fireworks early in the year.
This is going to be a solid test for Wright, who was undone by the Jays in 2015. Surrendering a 9.45 ERA and 1.168 OPS in three games, Wright will be in for another major battle with one of baseball's best fastball hitting teams. Already in 2016, Wright has seen an uptick in curveball usage, with a slight rise in slider frequency as well. We know Wright throws hard, but especially so against the Blue Jays, his off-speed command will be the ultimate gauge to his effectiveness. If you can't change speeds around Toronto's lineup, you eventually succumb to predictability.
Game 2 Probables
R.A. Dickey (1-2, 6.75 ERA) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (1-0, 3.75 ERA)
Dickey goes as the knuckleball goes, and so far this year, the pitch that defies gravity has been launched around the stratosphere. When the ball isn't being put in play (20.6 K% to 11.0 BB%), Dickey's knuckleball has fallen victim to a 166 wRC+ and .366 BABIP, much to be explained by his 26.0% line drive rate. It's impossible to know how the fingernails happen to grip the baseball on any given day, but Dickey has nested in the middle of the plate in his three starts thus far, and the Orioles hot bats won't mind an evening with a floating knuckler.
Like Dickey, you never know what Ubaldo you're going to see on a particular evening, but in his first two starts, he's been good Ubaldo. Despite a .406 BABIP, Jimenez has struck out nearly 30% of batters faced thus far, and even more encouraging, his stuff is playing to its purpose, having induced ground balls three times as often as fly balls. Eventually his BABIP will normalize, but Jimenez may find that take until after his next start if he, like Wright, is unable to successfully mix his stuff and avoid the middle of the plate.
Game 3 Probables
Marco Estrada (1-0, 2.77 ERA) vs. Chris Tillman (1-1, 5.11 ERA)
Estrada is essentially a clone of Yovani Gallardo, though he's dropped the blueprint on how to pitch with a fastball that ranges from 84-89 MPH. Relying on a majority of fastballs, cutters and changeups, Estrada does his best to keep hitters leaning forward rather than waiting back, and it's a strategy he's mastered. Weak contact and frustrating at-bats are going to test the Orioles in the actuality of their supposed newfound plate discipline.
Oh, Tilly. You trifling tease. We want to love you again, but it has to go both ways. Meet us in the middle. Regardless of his complicated love affair with the fine folks of Baltimore, the BABIP monster from under your bed is currently dwelling beneath Tillman's, and it hasn't been kind. A current .343 mark on the year sounds less merciful considering in Tillman's six starts against the Jays last season, his .345 BABIP led to a 1.129 OPS and 11.29 ERA. Find a happy place...find a happy place...
TIllman is adjusting however. Fewer knuckle-curves are being replaced with more changeups and sliders, a pair of pitches more prone to be called strikes. Perhaps two-inning Tillman is still a possibility, and if there was ever a time for us to see the charged up Chris Tillman, it would certainly come against the team that singlehandedly catapulted his ERA to nearly 5.00.
Overall, I'd imagine we see the Orioles stay hot at home and the Blue Jays bats reawaken courtesy of the O's mediocrity on the mound. Though only 11 games into the season, this is very much a series that can set the tone for the rest of the year, good or bad. If the Orioles want to once again win the AL East, these are exactly the teams that the O's need to best. Improving on an 8-11 record against the Jays from a year ago will not only measure what this Orioles team is, but taking a series against a division rival can surely be a boost to the system, even in April.