The last time the Orioles came into a series where they were playing their closest rival in the standings, they farted away the opportunity in four games of bad offense and not-good-enough pitching. That was against Boston, at home. The same opportunity awaits them over the next three games in Toronto. Hopefully they take advantage this time.
This is a huge series. Every series has been a big series for them for a month, and every series will continue to be a huge series until they lose so many games that it doesn’t matter. Winning or losing only makes the next one even bigger.
Here are the stakes. The Orioles are one lone game behind the Blue Jays for the home wild card spot in the American League. Because of their season record against the Jays, they will not hold the tiebreaker at season’s end unless they pull off a sweep in this series.
There is not much likelihood of a tie unless the Orioles win two out of three games, anyway. Then they would end the series tied, with the Jays finishing the season against the first place Red Sox, who may still be fighting for home field advantage, while the O’s get to play the reeling Yankees for the final three games.
No looking ahead. The Orioles have to get to that point first. The O’s winning two of three games up north is a big ask. They are 2-5 in Canada this year so far. They were 3-6 there last year. It’s like there’s something in the water or the air, eh.
Game 1 - Tuesday, September 27, 7:07
Kevin Gausman (8-11, 3.57 ERA) vs. Aaron Sanchez (13-2, 3.12 ERA)
Sanchez has faced the Orioles offense four times this year and his team has won three of those games. Sanchez himself was awarded the win in all three games, including one in which he gave up six runs in five innings but his opposite number, Ubaldo Jimenez, did not make it out of the first inning.
That doesn’t sound promising, but, if Kevin Gausman is able to pitch well - if he’s healthy after having the start pushed back a couple of days with an issue in his intercostal muscle - and executes on a good game plan, the Orioles are plenty capable of winning tonight.
Not that Gausman executed a good game plan the last time he pitched in Toronto, giving up six runs in three innings towards the end of July. It’s two months later now. Let’s hope he’s better now. The Orioles need him.
Game 2 - Wednesday, September 28, 7:07
Chris Tillman (16-6, 3.84 ERA) vs. Francisco Liriano (8-13, 4.88 ERA)
Here is the obligatory game in which the Orioles will be tested against a crappy lefty. Liriano was so bad in Pittsburgh, and cost so much money, that they basically gave up two prospects just to be rid of him.
Liriano, to your chagrin and mine, has been better in Toronto, pitching to a 3.35 ERA in a Jays uniform over nine games. That includes going 6+ innings in all three of his most recent starts, allowing a combined four earned runs. As a guy who averages about 93mph on his fastball, he is at least not a soft-tossing lefty.
The Jays were kind of a demon team for Tillman last season. They destroyed him. He’s been a bit better this year, if not exactly great, allowing eight earned runs in 16.2 innings in three starts. If the Orioles offense does what it’s capable of doing - not that it’s done that very much since the All-Star break - that ought to be enough. Will it be? I wouldn’t bet on it.
Game 3 - Thursday, September 29, 7:07
Ubaldo Jimenez (7-12, 5.71 ERA) vs. Marcus Stroman (9-9, 4.34 ERA)
Stroman has started five games in September and he has five quality starts but is 0-4 despite a 3.00 ERA. No run support? Too bad, so sad! The Jays were shut out in two of the games where Stroman pitched.
The last time Stroman faced the Orioles, in Baltimore in June, he gave up seven runs in just 3.2 innings of work. Overall, he’s given up 14 earned runs in 16 innings pitched against the Orioles this year. Matt Wieters, of all people, has two home runs in 11 plate appearances against Stroman.
The Jimenez of earlier in 2016 would make you look at this game and say, “Well, the Orioles had better win the first two, because they’re not winning this one.” And they might not win this one, but if Jimenez keeps pitching the way he’s done since rejoining the rotation, he won’t be a big part of the reason why not.
Jimenez is now working on a streak of six starts in which he’s held opposing batters to a combined .186 average. In that time he’s got an ERA of 2.85. That includes a game in late August in which he held the Blue Jays offense to three runs on five hits in 6.2 innings of work - a game the Orioles won, 5-3. It also includes three games where he’s pitched seven innings or more.
As a team in September, the Orioles are only batting .229/.302/.415. If they keep hitting like that over the final six games of the season, they MIGHT still make a postseason game, if only because they now have a two game cushion over the Detroit Tigers, but all being the road wild card team gets them is one more game in Toronto, a den of horrors for them.
This is a big one and no one has any idea what is going to happen. Hold on to your butts.