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Orioles-Athletics series preview: A chance to close in on the Wild Card

The August west-coast trip continues against the Athletics. Can the Orioles collect a series win against a sub-.500 team?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Los Angeles Angels Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles continue the trip a couple of time zones away this weekend, traveling to Oakland for a four-game set against the Athletics. At 14 games under .500, there doesn’t seem to be much optimism for the A’s these days, especially after the team traded away ace Sonny Gray to the Yankees at the deadline. Sure, the Orioles might have to see Gray plenty in the future, but he’s avoided at least for this series.

Buck Showalter’s team is in a fascinating situation as August rolls along, not at all out of Wild Card contention though some days it feels as though it is. It’s been one rollercoaster ride of a season and hope isn’t entirely lost for a playoff berth. That said, this series could effectively plummet the team’s chances if it turns in an unfortunate direction.

Below, a preview of what to watch over this weekend of Orioles baseball.

Thursday, 10:05 p.m. ET

Game 1 - Wade Miley (5-9, 5.51 ERA) vs. Chris Smith (0-1, 4.82 ERA)

Chris Smith has accumulated just 120 major league innings at 36 years old and has made just four starts this year for Oakland. In 28 innings in 2017, he’s piled up a 1.35 WHIP and a 4.82 ERA, striking out 16 and walking 11. It’s difficult to get a feel for the results we should expect from Smith, so there’s little expectations heading into this one. Of course, the game plan remains the same — get hits, score runs.

For Miley, the story has been well documented. The early-season results were due to a bit of luck and since a favorable start to the season, he’s fallen off and has struggled throughout the summer. What Miley will show up tonight? Again, difficult to forecast. It seems as though a quality start would be enough to push the team over the edge against Smith, but baseball is a funny game. And with the way 2017 has gone, Miley might want to toss nine scoreless innings to keep things safe.

Rajai Davis is 3-10 against Miley with two HRs, while Marcus Semien is a career 4-11.

Friday, 10:05 p.m. ET

Game 2 - Ubaldo Jimenez (5-7, 6.31 ERA) vs. Paul Blackburn (2-1, 2.60 ERA)

Another Orioles starting pitcher, another impossible projection. If the Ubaldo Jimenez of the last three Ubaldo starts (18.2 IP, 4 ER) shows up, this Friday night game is going to be a good one. But if the pitcher who tossed in the three starts prior (14 IP, 16 ER) takes the hill, it’s going to be a long late-night matchup in Oakland.

The good news is that in limited at-bats (48 total), the A’s lineup has posted just a .208 average against Jimenez. For fans here on the east coast looking to stay up for this game, here’s hoping “good Ubaldo” can dominate.

Blackburn has made just seven starts this season, his first year in the major leagues. Give him credit — he’s allowed just 37 hits in 45 innings and has done his part to keep runs off the board. However, he’s only fanned 17 batters over those frames, perhaps presenting an opportunity for plenty of contact on Friday night.

Another game, two unknowns. Get ready for this series to take plenty of odd twists that don’t exactly make sense.

Saturday, 9:05 p.m. ET

Game 3 - Dylan Bundy (11-8, 4.15 ERA) vs. Sean Manaea (8-6, 4.15 ERA)

Manaea has been about league-average for most of the season, but has struggled in his first two starts of the month of August. In two outings, he’s allowed 15 hits in 6.1 innings, surrendering seven earned runs and striking out just a pair of batters. For the Orioles, this could mark three consecutive opposing starters that present at least the potential of a favorable matchup on paper. At this point in August, that’s about all you can ask.

Manaea hasn’t faced the O’s in his career, so Tim Beckham (1-6) and Rueben Tejada (0-2) are the only batters who have prior experience against the Athletics’ starter.

For Bundy, three of his last four starts have been brilliant, including the most recent seven-inning gem against the Angels in the series opening win in Anaheim. Although he’s tossed just over 245 innings in his career in Major League Baseball, it’s pretty simple to preview a Bundy start — if he has his best stuff, he’ll be going late into the game and the Orioles are likely going to win. For now, it’s a matter of keeping a close eye on how the arm looks to be holding up as we get deeper into the month of August.

Bundy’s only experience against Oakland was a pair of innings out of the bullpen last May.

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

Game 4 - Jeremy Hellickson (7-6, 4.45 ERA) vs. Kendall Graveman (2-3, 4.97 ERA)

Graveman has been dealing with a shoulder strain for much of the season and enters this game with just 54.1 innings to his name over the course of 2017. In those frames, he’s allowed 61 hits and 16 walks, slightly disappointing in his third full year with Oakland. This will be just his third outing since May — in the two starts since returning from the disabled list, Graveman has allowed 10 earned runs in 7.1 innings while striking out just a pair. No Sonny Gray, certainly no seemingly dominant threat for the A’s over this four-game set.

Graveman has actually seen the Orioles quite a bit and has allowed a .333/.378/.547 slash line against the current roster over 75 at-bats. Seth Smith is 8-18, Mark Trumbo 3-8 with a home run and Adam Jones 4-11 with a round-tripper of his own.

Hellickson has battled in a total of just 33 at-bats against the current Oakland roster over his career, with the lineup hitting just .182 in the matchups. Rajai Davis is 2-10, while Jed Lowrie has worked just a 2-12.

For Showalter and Co., here’s hoping the good times continue to roll with Hellickson on the mound. The Dan Duquette acquisition was of course questioned at the time, but as long as he continues to post quality starts, there won’t be much argument against dealing for him, even it did send away Hyun-Soo Kim.

A previous version of this story listed Kevin Gausman as the starter in this game. That was an error — Hellickson will take the mound on Sunday!


How many games will the Orioles win this series against the A’s?

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