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Orioles-Giants series preview: Battle of black and orange

After a disappointing series against the Oakland A’s, the Orioles head across the bay to play the first-place Giants. What could go wrong?

The San Francisco Giants fall into both categories of teams that get the least amount of attention from me. They are both in the National League and they are on the west coast. Unlike other NL teams on that side of the country, though, their World Series wins in 2010, 2012, and 2014 have pushed them into my awareness to a certain level.

Currently in first place in the NL West, the Giants could add another even-year WS title this season, though the Los Angeles Dodgers are hot on their heels in the division. At the All-Star break the Giants had the best record in baseball and a 6.5 game lead over LA. Since then, however, the Giants have the worst record in baseball at 8-16. Their lead in the division has been cut to just one game.

Over the entire season the Giants have scored an average of 4.43 runs per game, which is just at league average. But they’ve only average 3.38 runs per game in the second half, which could explain their poor record. As you all know the Orioles have also had trouble scoring runs; they are at 4.65 per game for the season and 3.4 in the second half.

As an offense, the Orioles and Giants are like opposites. The Giants don’t hit a lot of home runs, their total of 94 is 27th out of 30 in the MLB. Their team leader, Brandon Belt, has 13 home runs. There are six Orioles with more home runs than that and two with at least twice that many.

We can play that game another way, too. The Giants have a team OBP of .331, which is greater than all but three Orioles, one of whom (Hyun Soo Kim) only has 220 plate appearances. The Giants have six regular players with an OBP of .331 or greater, including Belt who is sitting at .397.

When it comes to starting pitching, the Giants have two really great starters and then some question marks. The bad news for the Orioles is that those two great starters, Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, are pitching in this series. Or maybe that’s good news given how they tend to roll over for scrub pitchers. Either way, more on that below in the game breakdowns.

Where the Orioles should have an edge is with relief pitching, provided they can get to the late innings with a lead. Fangraphs ranks the Orioles as having the fourth best bullpen by fWAR, with Zach Britton (1.7 fWAR) and Brad Brach (1.6 fWAR) each individually having a higher number than the entire Giants bullpen (1.1). The Giants are ranked 24th in the MLB.

Game 1: Friday, August 12th, 10:15 ET

Dylan Bundy (5-3, 3.05 ERA) vs. Matt Cain (4-6, 5.16 ERA)

Dylan Bundy is quickly becoming must-see TV for me, so much so that I plan to take a nap so that I can stay up later to see more of his start. Over his last four starts he has pitched to a 1.90 ERA with 29 strikeouts in just 23.2 innings. He makes me feel things.

There was a stretch in time when Matt Cain was one of the better pitchers in baseball. That time has passed. He has only made 15 starts this season due to a hamstring injury and as recently as August 1st it was rumored that the Giants might move him to the bullpen. He’s had two decent starts in a row, however, pitching a combined total of 10 shutout innings, both against the Nationals.

Cain’s fastball sits right around 90 mph and normally his 5+ ERA would have me worried that the Orioles would roll over for him, but something about Dylan Bundy starting this game makes me feel optimistic

Game 2: Saturday, August 13th, 9:05 ET

Kevin Gausman (3-9, 4.02 ERA) vs. Madison Bumgarner (10-7, 2.20 ERA)

Yeah, about those two really good pitchers I mentioned before? Here is one. Bumgarner reached legend status in the 2014 World Series and he hasn’t cooled down. He’s working on his fourth straight season with a sub-3.00 ERA. He averages almost seven innings per start, strikes out 10 batters per nine innings, and walks only 2.2.

This is a total mis-match with Gausman and his 4.02 ERA, but it’s more likely than not that any game with Bumgarner on one side will have a mismatch.

As for Gausman, it seems like he might be putting together something good of late. In four of his last five starts he has given up two or fewer runs and pitched at least six innings. Of course in the fifth start he gave up six runs in three innings to the Blue Jays, but let’s not talk about that.

Game 3: Sunday, August 14th, 4:05 ET

Wade Miley (7-10, 4.98 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (13-3, 2.93 ERA)

Speaking of mismatches, here is this one. Miley is coming off of a good start in Oakland, but overall this is a guy that you’re happy to get a quality start from. That’s not usually good enough to outpitch Johnny Cueto.

It’s often the case that when a team signs a free agent to a big contract, everyone ends up disappointed. That hasn’t happened with Cueto, who signed a six-year, $130 million contract with the Giants before this season. Cueto doesn’t allow many baserunners, he strikes out a fair numer, and he walks hardly anyone. He also has a 50% ground ball rate.

Oh, and by the way, Cueto and Bumgarner have each thrown four complete games. The Orioles haven’t thrown any.

Between the Orioles road woes, the pitching matchups, and the general first placeness of the Giants, it feels like our guys will have a tough time this weekend. If they want to go home with a winning road trip they’ll need to sweep, which is highly unlikely. But maybe they’ll go 2-1 to finish the road trip at .500!