The 2018 Orioles are the equivalent of a dumpster fire raging inside a derailed train on top of the Titanic. Or something. That metaphor kind of got away from me. But as wretched as the team is, there are occasionally still some reasons to watch the club, as Randy DeCleene recently pointed out. This weekend, the best reason to watch the Orioles is their opponent, the best active ballplayer on the planet, Mike Trout.
Trout’s Angels are in Baltimore for a three-game series, and the two-time MVP is once again laying waste to opposing pitchers. He’s carrying a cool .320/.460/.641 line with 23 homers and 48 RBIs, and he’s been the most valuable player in MLB by far. According to Baseball Reference, Trout’s already amassed a 6.7 WAR this year, well ahead of second-place Jose Ramirez (5.4). He’s on pace for a WAR of 13.2, which would be the second-best single-season WAR for a position player in MLB history behind Babe Ruth’s 14.1 in 1923.
From June 11-19, Trout had an incomprehensible stretch at the plate in which he made only seven outs in eight GAMES. In 37 plate appearances over that span, Trout had 16 hits (including four homers), 11 walks, and a hit by pitch while driving in nine runs. That’s a cool .696/.778/1.261 line. Trout has been limited to DH duty for the past nine games with a sprained right index finger.
Sadly, the Angels — as has been the case in all but one year of Trout’s career — are not parlaying his excellence into a postseason berth as it stands now. They’re in fourth place in the AL West, sitting at .500. A lot has gone wrong for the club. Right fielder Kole Calhoun, who was a perfectly cromulent player before this season, has spent much of the year jockeying with Chris Davis for the title of worst hitter in the majors. Calhoun is sporting a .169/.226/.234 batting line. Fans of most teams would find it impossible for an everyday player to be that awful a hitter. Here in Birdland, we just nod in knowing chagrin.
What’s really torpedoed the Angels this year is injuries. They start this series with a whopping 14 players on the DL, including starting pitchers Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, and Nick Tropeano; closer Keynan Middleton; and infielder Zack Cozart, who suffered a labrum tear that will cost him the rest of the season. Star shortstop Andrelton Simmons also spent time on the DL earlier this year.
The biggest blow, though, was the UCL sprain suffered by Japanese rookie sensation Shohei Ohtani. Trout is the game’s best player, but Ohtani is its most fascinating. The two-way star was tearing it up both at the plate (.289/.372/.535 and six homers in 34 games) and on the mound (4-1, 3.10 ERA and 61 strikeouts in nine starts) before the injury. The “Japanese Babe Ruth” could return later this year, at least as a hitter, but we won’t see him this series.
Game 1: Friday, 7:05 PM
RHP David Hess (2-4, 5.44) vs. RHP Felix Pena (0-0, 5.40)
For whatever reason, even though this is Hess’s usual spot in the rotation, the Orioles didn’t officially name him as the starter until yesterday. After a strong start to his big league career, with four quality starts in his first five games, things have soured for Hess. In each of his last three starts, he’s gone (as Mark Brown would say) the full Tommy Hunter: five runs, all earned. His ERA has risen more than two points in that span. Another bad start Friday might have the O’s questioning their next move with Hess.
Remember what I said about the Angels’ injury problems? Four members of their season-opening rotation — Richards, Shoemaker, Ohtani, and J.C. Ramirez — are on the DL, so the O’s are going to see some more obscure starters this series. The first is Pena, a former Cubs reliever who has made four appearances (two starts) with the Angels this year. He’s been tagged for 20 baserunners in 11.2 innings so far, though he does have 14 strikeouts. The only current Oriole with a plate appearance against him is Jace Peterson, who drew a walk.
Game 2: Saturday, 4:05 PM
RHP Andrew Cashner (2-8, 4.70) vs. Tyler Skaggs (6-5, 2.69)
If the appeal of seeing Trout wasn’t enough, Saturday is Hawaiian shirt day, which always draws a crowd at Camden Yards. They’ll be watching a pitching matchup, though, that skews heavily in favor of the Angels. Skaggs is the Angels’ lone remaining healthy starter from the season-opening rotation, and he’s having a breakout year, with the best ERA (2.69), WHIP (1.230), and K/9 rate (9.7) of his career.
He’ll be returning to the scene of one of the worst moments of his life. On July 31, 2014 at Camden Yards, Skaggs was humming along with 4.2 no-hit innings against the Orioles when he felt arm soreness and had to exit early. It turned out that he had a partially torn UCL and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He didn’t step on a major league mound again until 2016.
Cashner has no such dramatic back story for this game. He’s just Andrew Cashner, a guy who gives up lots of baserunners but usually guts out a fairly decent start. Other than one rain-shortened outing, all of Cashner’s starts in June have had exactly the same line: six innings, three earned runs.
Game 3: Sunday, 1:05 PM
RHP Kevin Gausman (3-6, 4.20) vs. Deck McGuire (0-0, 5.40)
Gausman was denied a win over the Mariners in his last start by a Birds bullpen that blew his lead in the eighth. The Orioles have lost each of Gausman’s last eight starts, although he threw quality starts in four of them. He’s had no luck against the Angels in his career, going 1-3 with a 5.97 ERA in five starts. Trout has tagged him for three homers in just 13 at-bats, and Luis Valbuena has somehow crushed four homers off him in only nine at-bats. Ownage.
McGuire is much like Friday’s starter, Pena, in that he has a 5.40 ERA for the Angels and has made only two major league starts. Both came last year when McGuire was on the Reds. He’s already on his eighth organization (including the Blue Jays twice) but has pitched in just 12 MLB games. He started this year with Toronto, was claimed on waivers by the Rangers on June 15, and was sold to the Angels four days later.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series?
This poll is closed
3 (Orioles will sweep)
0 (Orioles will get swept)