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Orioles at Rays: Series Preview, July 15th - 17th

Baseball’s back!

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

As you no doubt know and will not get tired of hearing, the Baltimore Orioles finished the All Star break in first place at 51-36. They begin the second half of the season on the road in St. Petersburg against the last-place Tampa Bay Rays. While the Orioles own a +41 run differential, the Rays are 5th-last in baseball at -74. They’re already 17.5 games out of first place. The Orioles have dominated the season series by winning seven of nine games so far, nearly doubling the Ray’s run output 46 to 24.

Game 1 probables: Yovani Gallardo (5.18 ERA, 129 xFIP-) vs. Chris Archer (4.66 ERA, 85 xFIP-)

Yovani Gallardo has had a miserable season so far. It started before he even signed with the team, settling for reduced money due to concerns with his physical. At the time, everybody rolled their eyes at Yet Another Orioles Failed Physical. But Gallardo began the season throwing at an underwhelming velocity, then went on the DL with shoulder trouble barely three weeks into the season. The Orioles of course got no credit for foreseeing this whole thing.

Since returning from the DL, Gallardo’s gained a few MPH on his fastball but has settled for mediocre results. I don’t have high hopes for him. His xFIP, 29% worse than league average when accounting for park effects and league, is ranked 195th out of 214 starters with at least ten innings pitched. Yeesh.

Chris Archer began the year shouldering opposite expectations. After an excellent 2015 campaign with a 3.23 ERA and 73 xFIP-, many thought he would contend for the Cy Young this year. He was okay in his first start but was torched by the Orioles in his second start, surrendering ten (!) hits and four (!) dingers to the Birds in just five innings. Since then he’s pitched well; although his ERA doesn’t show it, xFIP says he’s been the victim of an unreasonably high HR/FB rate of 18.2%. Look for that to come down over the second half of the season, but not tonight against the Orioles’ homer-happy offense.

Game 2 probables: Chris Tillman (3.41 ERA, 103 xFIP-) vs. Matt Moore (4.46 ERA, 107 xFIP-)

Chris Tillman’s made meaningful changes in his game, resulting in a strikeout rate nearly equaling his 2013 high of 21.2%. Relative to other pitchers that’s about average, but after a stink-bomb of a 2015 season where his K rate declined for the third straight year, many wrote him off as cooked. Happily, he appears to still have some shelf life. Unfortunately the increase in K’s also brought an increase in walks, but overall his K-BB% sits at a decent 11.9%. The Orioles will certainly take it.

For some reason I think of Matt Moore as a rookie, but after four years of service time he’s halfway to ‘veteran’ status. My mistake. The lefty has pitched okay this year, well enough that trade rumors swirl around him as Tampa Bay, ever mindful of their tiny budget, flounders in the standings.

Could the Orioles land Moore? His 107 xFIP- would be better than all Orioles starters save Tillman and Kevin Gausman. The Orioles also feature all righties for now. But Tampa Bay is a division rival and a shrewd one at that. Dan Duquette would have to do some wheeling and dealing to pull off a deal with GM Matt Silverman. It would be fun to see him walk across the diamond this weekend, that’s for sure.

Game 3 probables: Undecided vs. Jake Odorizzi (4.47 ERA, 101 xFIP-)

No one knows much of anything about the man called Unde “TBA” Cided. Unlike many baseball players, he’s never appeared in a major, minor, independent, amateur, summer, winter, Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, German, Uzbekistanian, softball, university, or sandlot game. No one’s seen his face and no one knows where he was born. Does he throw right-handed? Is he over six feet tall? What’s the velocity on his fastball? The break on his curveball?

No one knows. He’s never pitched a single game in his life.

Despite this irrefutable fact, managers love him. Or seem to. Over and over they announce him as their starter, as their man on the hill, as their weapon going into battle. Yet when the crowd settles in and the umpire starts the game, someone else is always on the mound.

It’s the greatest mystery in sports. Who is this man, that he can flirt with greatness yet never achieve it? Who is this man, that he can tease fans’ hopes relentlessly while never delivering? Who is this man, that he can stir the ardor of baseball-hardened major league managers, leave them high and dry the day before, and still get called upon time and time again?

Perhaps Buck Showalter knows. Perhaps fans will find out this Sunday.

Odorizzi is another another Tampa Bay whose ERA underperforms his xFIP. Hm ... *checks FanGraphs* yep, the Rays rank 23rd in Defensive Runs Saved and 22nd in Ultimate Zone Rating. That’s quite a change from years past when the team focused on defense.

Other teams are noticing; as with Moore, Odorizzi has been connected to other teams via trade including the Marlins, Rangers, and Red Sox. As with the Orioles, the Red Sox would have to make a dazzling offer to a division rival. Odorizzi has a storied trade history already, going from Milwaukee to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke trade and from Kansas City to Tampa Bay in the much-ballyhooed James Shields and Wade Davis for Wil Myers swap. Perhaps this year he will write a new chapter.

My prediction: the Orioles take two of three in this series.