Before the season, if you surveyed the Orioles interleague schedule, it probably wasn’t the series against the Milwaukee Brewers that looked like the big worry out of the games against the National League Central. With underwhelming performance from their rivals and their own surprising quality, though, here we are almost to the Fourth of July and the Brewers are in first place.
How are they doing it? A big part, though not the only part, was the blistering April of Eric Thames, who opened eyes with his 11 homer month in his return from reinventing himself in Korea. He’s tailed off since but still sitting on a .920 OPS for the season. There’s also Travis Shaw, traded from the Red Sox in the offseason, joining Thames atop the team leaderboards with a .291/.357/.554 batting line.
Add in a lineup with at least a league average bat at every position - thanks in part to another surprising emergence, longtime light hitter Eric Sogard, enjoying a .916 OPS - a starting rotation with more quality at the top than expected, and an excellent closer, and that’s a good way to get to be a division leader in early July. It helps that the Cubs and the Cardinals both are far weaker than expected.
Not everything has been perfect for the Brewers. A couple of starting pitchers, including former Orioles prospect Zach Davies, are sitting on ERAs near 5. That’s no good when you get to face lineups with pitchers in them. Neither Davies nor fellow struggler Junior Guerra are due to pitch in the series.
The Brewers already had to cast aside their season-opening closer, Neftali Feliz. The rest of the bullpen aside from new closer Corey Knebel doesn’t exactly look to be inspiring, either. They’ve now had former Oriole Oliver Drake appear in 30 games for them. It’s gone about as well as you might expect.
Game 1: Monday, 2:10pm
Starters: Wade Miley (3-6, 4.54 ERA) vs. Brent Suter (0-1, 4.20 ERA)
The 27-year-old Suter has been bumped into the rotation, at least for this series, with Chase Anderson landing on the disabled list. This will be just the fourth MLB start for Suter. Add onto that the fact that Suter is a lefty who in his MLB action this season has had his fastball average just 85.9 miles per hour and it’s enough to make you wince. That feels like the kind of guy who will frustratingly stymie an overly aggressive Orioles lineup.
Another guy who can be frustrating to Orioles fans is Miley, the starter in the opener. How does a starter walk 46 batters in 81.1 innings? Very carefully. Early in the season, Miley was escaping a lot of jams despite allowing a lot of baserunners. Lately, he’s still been getting the jams but he hasn’t been making the escapes. He is coming off a June where he posted a 7.48 ERA in six games and finished the sixth inning just once.
The Brewers have been a middle of the pack team against lefty starters. Their collective .248/.315/.440 batting line against lefties is 8th best in the NL. The Orioles are similarly middle of the pack: 7th in the AL against lefties.
Game 2: Tuesday, 4:10pm
Starters: Ubaldo Jimenez (3-3, 6.48 ERA) vs. Jimmy Nelson (6-4, 3.43 ERA)
Was the brief bullpen exile enough to jump start Jimenez into the kind of hot streak that the Orioles hoped to see more of when they signed him to a four year contract? We maybe shouldn’t discount the fact that Jimenez’s few early good starting pitching outings were against National League opponents.
Nelson is the kind of player that you don’t think about much as a fan of an American League team. He’s been there in the NL Central pitching for a few seasons, never all that great - at least until this year. Nelson has increased the strikeouts, cut down on walks, and not surprisingly, is enjoying the best season of his career to date. That’s despite what looks like bad BABIP luck - .331 against a career mark of .303.
Game 3: Wednesday, 7:10pm
Starters: TBD vs. Matt Garza (3-4, 4.36 ERA)
The TBD for the Orioles is dependent on when Chris Tillman’s wife delivers the couple’s first child. If Tillman doesn’t make the start, it’s currently expected to be Jayson Aquino, who started on Sunday for Norfolk but was pulled short after about 60 pitches to prepare for that possibility. I’m not ready for Aquino either, though of course Tillman hasn’t been good this year.
If it feels like Garza has been around forever, that’s because it’s been more than a decade since he made his MLB debut with the Twins. He’s been with the Brewers for four years now, in the last year of a four year, $50 million contract signed before 2014.
Remarkably similar to Jimenez, actually, with overall uninspiring results, though Garza at least had a good first year in Milwaukee and his lows have not been as low as Jimenez’s lows. Garza has only pitched six innings or more in five of his twelve starts, so this may be a game where the O’s have an opportunity to get into the weaker parts of the Brewers bullpen.
If the Orioles can win two out of three games, they will have a .500 record coming out of Milwaukee at series end and it will feel like they’re maybe going somewhere positive again. If they lose the series, they’ll fall farther below .500 and it’ll be that much steeper of a hill to climb to get back to a good place in the second half of the season.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series?
This poll is closed
The Orioles will get swept
The Orioles will sweep