Well, no matter your potential belief in baseball juju, and at the risk of jinxing the goods, it’s fair to say the current state of affairs in Birdland are at a season high.
At 45-30, the Orioles are 4.5 games ahead of the slumping Red Sox, a team who’s lost three straight and six of their last ten. The Blue Jays, also losers of 60% of their previous ten ballgames, squandered an early lead in Denver last night, losing 9-5 to the Rockies. The Yankees are meandering their way back to .500, but how much of an ember is really burning in the fireplace of the AL East retirement home? And the Rays, who lost four-straight to the O’s, snapped their 11-game losing streak with a 13-7 win over the Red Sox yesterday, did so at the expense of former Orioles prospect Eduardo Rodriguez, who was demoted to Triple-A following the game.
The #RedSox optioned Eduardo Rodriguez to Triple A after the game.— Pete Abraham (@PeteAbe) June 28, 2016
Rodriguez’s present 8.59 ERA and 9.2 BB% aren’t good, as are the replies to Pete Abraham’s tweet in regards to the former Oriole. As much as the rest of the division has seen it’s ups and downs, the Orioles, for the most part, have stayed fairly even-keeled, with fewer and fewer lapses of ineptitude in between. Life ain’t bad, man.
But before we settle down in Pleasure Town, the Orioles must first traverse an extended trip to the West Coast. Tonight and tomorrow afternoon, the O’s will square off in the greatest city in the history of mankind: San Diego.
Drink it in. It always goes down smooth.
Game 1: Ubaldo Jimenez (4-7, 6.97 ERA) vs. Erik Johnson (0-5, 8.54 ERA)
So, about Ubaldo. The last time he was afforded an opportunity to start was June 22, against these same Padres. In his sincerest form of flattery, Jimenez pitched, according to his game score (62), his third-best start of the year, allowing only two runs on four hits over six innings. He threw more two-seam fastballs (31%) than he had for most of this year, also exchanging the splitter with the slider. It’s hard to say if that’s a sign of things to come, because who really knows, but it wasn’t hard to tell Jimenez was much better finding the radius of the strike zone, despite the four walks.
As for Erik Johnson, his last start was in opposition of Ubaldo on June 22, where he was tagged for six runs over four innings. One of the pieces in the recent James Shield trade, Johnson is a primary fastball-slider righty who owns a very high contact rate of 84.9%. The Orioles feasted on him before, including home runs from Mark Trumbo and Ryan Flaherty, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t again.
Game 2: Yovani Gallardo (2-1, 6.04 ERA) vs. Christian Friedrich (4-2, 3.60 ERA)
Speaking of high contact rates, for all starting pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, Gallardo’s 86.9% contact rate is 10th-highest in baseball. For a guy who gives up a lot of contact, his BABIP (.340) is also .44 points higher than league average, which is also not good. To his credit however, in his last start against the Rays, Gallardo shook off three first inning runs to keep the Orioles alive before the bats swarmed for a 6-3 win. Gallardo is never going to make pitching look pretty, because it’s all by design. He knows he can’t live around the middle of the plate. Still, If he continues to pitch five or six innings allowing two or three runs, it really doesn’t matter how it looks.
Christian Friedrich is actually pretty interesting. A former first-round pick of the Rockies, Friedrich kind of flamed out with Colorado and was signed by the Padres on a minor league deal heading into 2016. He’s bounced back in San Diego, throwing a lot more two-seam fastballs and curveballs. Not a hard thrower, Friedrich’s fastball hovers around 90 MPH, so the Orioles are going to a see a lot of baseballs moving every which way. Friedrich is a good story, and for his sake let’s hope it continues, but maybe his road to redemption hits a fork in the road when the O’s come to Petco. Just for one afternoon.