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Orioles-Yankees series preview: August 26-28

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The Orioles fight to get back on top of the AL East. The Yankees and their $225 million payroll fight to close on the wild card.

Scarcely more than a month has passed since the Orioles last went up against the Yankees, but that’s been time enough for a lot to change. Two of the four starters used by the Yankees in the last series aren’t on the active roster right now. Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran were all traded. Alex Rodriguez was shuffled with little ceremony into a desk job.

In nearly every way, this is the scenario for which I have hoped for the Yankees for many years. Forced by underwhelming performance to sell off and fall into oblivion, basically. I’ve gotten it all except for the oblivion, because the Yankees, improbably, are, rather than falling apart, clinging to the periphery of the wild card chase.

At 4.5 games back, the Yankees aren’t right in there, especially since they have five teams to pass in order to get a postseason spot, but they’re one prolonged hot streak away from doing the thing. They’re holding on to this place even though they have a negative run differential, and they’ll get to take aim at one of the teams ahead of them in the Orioles this weekend.

If the worst happens and the Orioles are swept this weekend, the Yankees will be just 1.5 back of the Orioles and will probably have raced past two of the other teams in the race. The Orioles could forget about the AL East entirely. They really need to win two out of three in New York. Every series they can win is a sweep they aren’t practically forced to pull off later.

Game 1 - Friday, 7:05

Yovani Gallardo (4-5, 5.08 ERA) vs. Luis Cessa (3-0, 4.01 ERA)

Go ahead and fire up the dread machine right away because Cessa will be making just his second ever MLB start and only pitching in his tenth MLB game ever. Cessa started out in the cross-town Mets organization before being traded to the Tigers along with Michael Fulmer. The Tigers then traded Cessa and Chad Green (more on him later) to the Yankees for Justin Wilson, a bad reliever. What the heck, Detroit?

There is some good news. Cessa is neither soft-tossing nor a lefty. He averages near 95, and has given up five home runs in just 24.2 innings pitched to date. It’s quite clear what the Orioles ought to, and need to, do, but as we saw out in Oakland, you never know when they’ll actually do it.

Scoring runs with Gallardo on the mound is generally a good idea. The last time Gallardo faced these Yankees was in that last series in New York, and he gave up four runs in seven innings. That’s good for him, though the O’s were shut out on that particular day. Gallardo has a 3.38 ERA in four August starts. Maybe he’s turning a corner? We can dream.

Game 2 - Saturday, 1:05

Dylan Bundy (7-4, 3.33 ERA) vs. Chad Green (2-3, 3.66 ERA)

Green is situated in a very similar way to Cessa: Part of that Wilson trade, will be making his seventh ever MLB start and just his 11th appearance overall. Green even keeps his fastball around 95mph, like Cessa does, and is also right-handed. And he’s given up eight home runs in 39.1 innings!

Again, it’s quite clear what the Orioles need to do. Green may not be such an easy mark, though. He has at least shown the ability to get a lot of strikeouts early in his big career, with 45 against just 11 walks. Get on base somehow and get dingers. I guess that’s the plan every game, isn’t it?

Bundy has not yet started against the Yankees since joining the rotation. Not that pitcher wins tell us much, but what little they do tell us about Bundy being third on the team in wins - behind Mychal Givens and Chris Tillman, tied for Brad Brach - is not good. That’s the O’s rotation problem in a nutshell right there. Perhaps Bundy can keep being an unlooked-for, but quite welcome, solution to at least one of the problem slots.

Game 3 - Sunday, 1:05

Kevin Gausman (5-10, 3.92 ERA) vs. Michael Pineda (6-10, 5.02 ERA)

What kind of heathens schedule two 1:05 games in the same weekend? This is simply uncivilized. Speaking of uncivilized, the Orioles allowed themselves to be shut out the last time Pineda started against them, though Pineda himself was only responsible for six of those innings.

Here’s a hot tip: Don’t get shut out when the 2016 version of Michael Pineda starts. Don’t strike out eight times and don’t get only five hits. Easier said than done, of course, and given that the Orioles hate scoring runs, especially on the road, for Gausman, we should all know what to expect already - the exact opposite of what the Orioles need.

Pineda, though he’s getting a ton of strikeouts, is also extremely homer prone. He’s given up 22 in 141.2 innings. That’s not even small sample size territory any more. That’s a guy who gives up dingers. The Orioles hit dingers. It’s a perfect match! Except for when they suck instead.

Gausman on the road is long past the point where it is A Thing. Why is it A Thing? That, I do not know. But at home this year he has a 2.48 ERA and on the road he has a 5.32 ERA. You’d think he would do a little worse at Camden Yards, hitter’s park that it is, and a bit better on the road, but that’s not how it is going for him. This would be a good time for him to change his misfortunes on the road.