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Orioles-Pirates series preview: an interleague quickie to finish the homestand

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Your 29-26 O’s will see the 26-31 Pittsburgh Pirates for the first of two two-game series against one-another this season.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Pittsburgh Pirates Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Buck Showalter and the Orioles will welcome in Clint Hurdle and the Pirates tonight starting at 7:05pm EST. Both teams are hovering near-ish to the .500 mark so far this season, with Baltimore’s +3 edging out Pittsburgh’s -5.

The O’s are wrapping-up a nine game homestand in this series, capping a couple of divisional series with one against an interleague foe. On the homestand, The Orioles are presently 4-3 with a series win (2-1) against the Yankees and a series split (2-2) against the Red Sox.

Hey! That’s decent baseball. That’s 4-3 against division rivals in a middle month of the season! Coming into the homestand, I would have wagered heavily against it. The feeling around this team was... not good. The O’s entered the homestand on May 29th having lost a bajillion games in a row, and publicly vowing to never win again (link to article).

Now, suddenly there is decent (but still not beginning-of-the-season-sexy) baseball being played, and the Orioles are currently a very nice 19-10 at home. Both the O’s and the Bucs had the day off from play yesterday.

The Pirates aren’t really streaking one way or the other. They’re coming off of a series win (2-1) in New York against the Mets, but haven’t won or lost more than two games in a row since losing six times consecutively May 7-12. They’re 5-5 in their last 10 games, and the Orioles are 4-6.

The biggest national focus on the Pirates this year has been how Andrew McCutchen, after posting five consecutive seasons of at least 5.5 fWAR (peak 8.4fWAR in 2013) from 2011-2015, has not been bouncing back following a not good 0.7fWAR season in 2016. Superstars don’t generally suddenly fall off a cliff in their age-29 season.

Let’s take a look at the pitching match-ups and game odds.

Game 1 - June 6, 2017 @ 7:05pm EST: Kevin Gausman (3-4) 5.92 ERA versus Iván Nova (5-4) 2.92 ERA

fangraphs.com game odds: Orioles 57%, Pirates 43%

Man, was KG’s April ugly. I mean, there’s just no way around it. He posted a 7.50 ERA over 30IP and six starts. His May looked great in comparison, but he still posted a 4.30 ERA over 29.1IP and six starts. Progress is progress, but it isn’t necessarily going to be linear into June.

Gausman did manage to bring his walks down by 70% from April to May, but still posted over 3BB/9.0IP in the month. Where the heck are the K’s, though? Through the season-to-date, Kevin’s got a 6.37 K/9, good for 72nd among (the 90) qualified starters. His 8.72 K/9 ranked him 20th out of 73 qualified starters last season.

It hasn’t only been the lack on strikeouts plaguing Mr. Gausman in 2017, but also his surplus of walks (4.10 BB/9 versus 2.71 career). This has led to high pitch counts, short outings, and made him generally prone to “the big inning.” Chant “regression to the mean” three times in the bathroom mirror or something before the first pitch tonight... maybe do a voodoo ritual involving powdered donuts. Just do SOMETHING. This man needs some help.

Iván Nova has been exceptional ever since being traded to the Pirates from the Yankees mid-last year. He doesn’t really strike anyone out (4.68 K/9 in 2017) but he also doesn’t walk anyone either (0.7 BB/9 in 2017). He’s tallied a 2.92 ERA (a hair better than Dylan Bundy) this season, and the only pitchers in the NL that have been worth more this by fWAR so far this year are named Strasburg, Kershaw, Scherzer, Greinke, and Wood.

Game 2 - June 7, 2017 @ 7:05pm EST: Wade Miley (2-3) 2.82 ERA versus Chad Kuhl (1-5) 6.02 ERA

fangraphs.com game odds: Orioles 59.2%, Pirates 40.8%

Wade Miley is coming off of arguably his best start of the season, pitching 7.0 innings of one-run baseball on the way to a win against Boston. He even only walked one batter in the entire game, and it was in his final inning, when it was apparent the tank was a little low.

Much ink has been spilled over Miley’s enigmatic success in 2017 so far because he started out walking the entire world while maintaining a sub-three ERA along the way. For what it’s worth, he’s “only” walked five batters over his last 19 innings pitched. That’s still not great, but he hasn’t been the man who threw five, six, and seven walks all in April starts.

How has he been doing it? Probably (Oriole) magic, but I’m guessing a sky-high 84.4% left on base percentage, and a low-ish .286 batting average (against) on balls in play haven’t hurt either. ERA predictors (4.40 FIP, 4.08 xFIP) think it’s been smoke and mirrors, and if you’ve been watching him pitch, you might think he literally has been throwing with smoke and mirrors. It just doesn’t seem like he should be getting these results. Don’t chant “regression to the mean” before this one, folks.

Not-made-up sophomore righty, Chad Kuhl, will be facing-off against Wade Miley in this game. The 269th overall pick of the 2013 Rule IV draft hails from Bear, Delaware, which is also not a made up place. In all seriousness, though, the Pirates have struggled to find stability in the fifth rotation spot. I think the Orioles can sympathize.

Kuhl got off to a scorching hot start in April, but his early success hasn’t lasted. His ERA jumped from 2.60 to 6.63 on April 24th, and has hovered in the high 5’s and low 6’s ever since. I’m honestly not sure if Kuhl is being stretched out, or what, because all 25 of his MLB appearances have been starts, but he’s averaged only 79.9 pitches and roughly 4.2 IP per appearance for his career. Curious.

Depending on the result of this two-game series, the homestand will either be hailed as a resounding bounce-back, or a continuation of struggle and mediocrity. The difference between a 6-3 homestand and a 4-5 homestand feels pretty major.

After this short two game set, The O’s will head to Washington for a make-up game, and then to New York for three against the Yankees.

Poll

How many games will the O’s win this series? Tell me why you think so in the comments!

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    0 - swept
    (18 votes)
  • 30%
    1 - split
    (64 votes)
  • 61%
    2 - sweep
    (130 votes)
212 votes total Vote Now