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Orioles-Athletics series preview: One team has something to play for

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The A’s are battling for the AL West crown and the top wild card spot. They have a good chance to improve their position in these three games.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Oakland Athletics D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

If months of watching the preposterously putrid 2018 Orioles have made you forget what a good baseball team looks like, never fear! You’ll see plenty of them down the stretch. Five AL teams have all but punched their ticket to the playoffs, and the Orioles will play four of those teams in the remaining three weeks of the season. They’ll begin with the Oakland Athletics in a three-game set at Camden Yards.

The A’s are comfortably ahead of Seattle (7.5 games) for the second wild card spot, so they’re a lock to make the postseason for the first time since 2014. But of course, they’re still looking to improve their positioning instead of settling for a sudden-death Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium. The A’s are three games behind both the Yankees for the top wild card spot and the Astros for the AL West lead.

How have the A’s, a team almost nobody predicted to contend this season, rocketed their way into the postseason picture? It starts with a powerful offense that ranks second in the AL in both home runs and slugging percentage. They’re led by Khris Davis, a.k.a. The Good Khris Davis, who has topped the 40-homer mark for the third straight year and leads the majors with 41. Four other A’s have at least 20 homers as well.

Third baseman Matt Chapman has been a revelation in his first full season, playing Gold Glove defense at the hot corner (he leads all major league fielders, at any position, with 27 defensive runs saved) while posting an .884 OPS.

What’s really boosted the A’s has been a stellar bullpen that FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan called “a borderline miracle.” The crew has been sensational in the most high-pressure situations, better than any team in baseball in the last 45 years (the second-best was the dynamite 2012 Orioles bullpen that we all know and love). They’ve made a ton of in-season relief acquisitions — including Jeurys Familia, Fernando Rodney, Shawn Kelley, and Cory Gearrin — to set up All-Star closer Blake Treinen and his 0.87 ERA.

This is a series that, if they want to be taken seriously, the A’s should win handily. Both their main competitors, the Astros and Yankees, have series remaining against the Orioles. So the A’s need to pile up the wins against the Birds knowing that their rivals will later do the same.

Game 1: Tuesday, 7:05 PM

RHP Alex Cobb (5-15, 4.97) vs. RHP Mike Fiers (11-6, 3.36)

Cobb was initially supposed to start Sunday against Tampa before a blister pushed him back two days. This might be a better matchup for him, anyway; he’s a career 4-3 with a 2.25 ERA in nine starts against the A’s, including a six-inning, one-run outing in Oakland earlier this year. Of course, right now, Cobb is pitching well against everyone. In his last 10 outings, Cobb has posted a sparkling 2.67 ERA while throwing eight quality starts, looking very much like the pitcher the O’s thought they were signing this past winter. One A’s hitter who might give Cobb trouble is Jed Lowrie, who is 8-for-16 with four doubles against him.

Over the offseason, Fiers reportedly turned down a two-year deal with the Orioles to sign for one season with Detroit, and we were all like, “Ha! Who do you think you are, Mike Fiers? Good luck with the lowly Tigers!” I’m pretty sure he doesn’t regret his decision one bit. He parlayed a nice 21 starts with the Tigers into a trade to the contending A’s, where he has continued his success, going 4-0 with a 2.94 ERA in his first six starts with the club. Of current Orioles, only Adam Jones has more than 10 PAs against him, and he’s 1-for-11.

Game 2: Wednesday, 7:05 PM

RHP Andrew Cashner (4-14, 4.89) vs. TBD

Many of Cashner’s season stats are nearly identical to Cobb’s. Cashner has allowed 82 ER in 151 innings, to Cobb’s 83 in 150.1. Cashner has allowed 169 hits to Cobb’s 171, and each has allowed exactly 24 homers. Cashner has 98 strikeouts; Cobb 100. The two hurlers have gotten there in very different ways, though. While Cobb was horrific in the first half and terrific in the second, Cashner has pretty much been consistently mediocre all year long.

Cashner’s previous matchup with the A’s this year didn’t go well. They chased him in the fifth May 4 after he labored for 114 pitches and gave up four runs (three earned). It was one of only five times in 27 starts that Cashner didn’t last at least five full innings. Khris Davis, Matt Joyce, and Matt Olson have all homered off Cashner in their careers (including two for Joyce).

The Athletics’ threadbare rotation currently consists of just Fiers, Trevor Cahill, and ex-Oriole Edwin Jackson as its healthy members. Cahill is unavailable for this series and Jackson won’t be on full rest until Thursday. Candidates for Wednesday’s start include Daniel Mengden and Chris Bassitt, or the A’s could employ an “opener” to pitch one inning like they did with Liam Hendriks last Friday.

Game 3: Thursday, 7:05 PM

RHP Dylan Bundy (7-14, 5.58) vs. TBD

Well, this is really happening. Dylan Bundy is continuing to start games for the Orioles for reasons that nobody understands. Despite Bundy having an 8.83 ERA and pitching like hot garbage in his 11 starts since returning from an ankle injury, the O’s continue to trot him out there like a lamb to the slaughter. What is being accomplished here? Who is this helping? Shut the guy down already. There’s no reason to keep embarrassing him. Bundy told reporters after his last start that his frustration level was “10 out of 10” but that he “can’t really find anything” he’s doing wrong mechanically.

During this miserable stretch, batters are hitting .330 with a 1.053 OPS against Bundy. In other words, he basically turns all opposing hitters into a better version of Mike Trout. Also in that span, Bundy has coughed up an unbelievable 19 home runs in just 54 innings, inflating his MLB-leading total to 37 for the year. That’s seven more than anyone else, and the most of any O’s pitcher in history.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 8%
    3 (Orioles will sweep)
    (10 votes)
  • 2%
    2
    (3 votes)
  • 28%
    1
    (33 votes)
  • 60%
    0 (Orioles will get swept)
    (69 votes)
115 votes total Vote Now