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Orioles-Indians series preview: What a team with a good pitching staff looks like

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The Indians may not be a perfect team. They do have one of the best rotations and the best bullpen by ERA, though.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Cleveland Indians
He’s out! Or at least, he was on May 19.
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: The Cleveland Indians are a better baseball team than the Baltimore Orioles. The Indians starting rotation, despite a variety of ineffective and injured pitchers, is among the best in the American League. They have the best bullpen ERA of any MLB team. Even what had been a struggling offense is showing new signs of life in June as some of the poor performers have been shuffled out for younger talent. They’re averaging almost 5.5 runs scored per game for the month.

Cleveland will surely be glad to see the Orioles again. The last time these two teams met, the Indians outscored the O’s 29-13 over a four-game set in which the Indians took three of four. A three-game set with the O’s isn’t going to help them make up their 8.5 game deficit to the Twins on its own, but it’s not a bad start. They do have a fight for a wild card spot, as they fell a half-game behind the Rangers for the second AL wild card when the Rangers won on Thursday.

It must be fun for fans of this team to be able to watch a team that actually has interesting young players. The Orioles are also young, of course, but their youth is no strength. On the other hand, Cleveland has 24-year-olds Shane Bieber and Zach Plesac, both of whom we’ll see in this series, pitching well in their rotation.

Young outfielders Oscar Mercado and Jordan Luplow, both acquired by Cleveland in deals last year, have stepped in and been even better than the old guys they replaced. And of course the best of them all is shortstop Francisco Lindor, who’s on his way to a fourth straight 5+ WAR season.

These things have not added up to a great Cleveland offense so far this year. They’re 10th in the AL in runs scored, and their team batting line of .239/.318/.410 gives them an OPS that’s 10th in the AL as well.

It’s not all performance from players who are gone that is holding this offense from better numbers. Third baseman Jose Ramirez, who finished 3rd in the MVP voting each of the past two years, is OPSing just .638. Indians mainstay Jason Kipnis is having a third straight below-average season at the plate.

23-year-old Jake Bauers, another outfielder they acquired in a trade last year, was the best regarded of that bunch, an actual top 50 prospect in MLB before the 2018 season. The prospect hype has not helped him to better than a .225/.301/.394 batting line.

Game 1 - Friday, 7:05

  • John Means: 16 G, 12 GS, 2.67 ERA, 4.09 FIP, 1.146 WHIP, 70.2 IP, 59 SO, 21 BB, 8 HR
  • Mike Clevinger: 3 GS, 2.70 ERA, 1.74 FIP, 0.720 WHIP, 16.2 IP, 29 SO, 7 BB, 1 HR

Both of these pitchers have been on the injured list and are expected to be activated in time to make this start. Means suffered a shoulder strain, while Clevinger is coming back from an ankle sprain. The 28-year-old righty Clevinger made just two starts in April before hitting the injured list with a back strain, then suffered the ankle injury in his first start back in June. That’s some tough luck there.

Clevinger was good the past two years, with a combined 3.05 ERA and 344 strikeouts in 321.2 innings. If he’s back to that form right away, the tough luck will belong to the Orioles hitters instead.

There have been times this year that Orioles have returned from injuries that maybe they should have taken a little longer to heal. It happened to Alex Cobb and back in spring training it happened with Mark Trumbo. Means wasn’t on the injured list for long and didn’t do a rehab start. Hopefully that’s not a problem for him as he returns. He’s been the only O’s starter this year to make you feel like he might be around on the next good O’s team.

Game 2 - Saturday, 4:05

  • Andrew Cashner: 15 GS, 4.37 ERA, 4.62 FIP, 1.312 WHIP, 82.1 IP, 56 SO, 28 BB, 11 HR
  • Zach Plesac: 6 GS, 2.33 ERA, 4.94 FIP, 0.957 WHIP, 38.2 IP, 28 SO, 11 BB, 7 HR

Plesac is the nephew of former MLB pitcher Dan Plesac, who you might recognize from MLB Network commentary. After being selected in the 12th round of the 2016 draft, Plesac has climbed up the Indians minors while generally being old for each level. Something seems to have clicked for him this year as he blasted from Double-A to Triple-A and earned his MLB promotion after a raft of Indians rotation injuries.

It’s been a nice stint in MLB so far for Plesac, though if you go by his FIP, you might not expect for that to continue. Plesac struck out 56 batters in 57.1 minor league innings before his callup but hasn’t managed that level in MLB yet. Of course, it is just the Orioles offense.

There were times last year where Cashner made me feel like he was Yovani Gallardo 2.0. That’s not been the case in 2019. No one’s going to mistake him for a Cy Young candidate, but he’s been fine. If the Orioles had a rotation full of Cashners, they would be a much less depressing team to follow. He has a 2.00 ERA in his three June starts. Maybe he can continue that success.

Game 3 - Sunday, 1:05

  • Gabriel Ynoa: 15 G, 6 GS, 6.75 ERA, 6.45 FIP, 1.544 WHIP, 45.1 IP, 31 SO, 16 BB, 12 HR
  • Shane Bieber: 17 G, 16 GS, 3.83 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 1.100 WHIP, 96.1 IP, 122 SO, 23 BB, 16 HR

People have already spent money for tickets and they’re going to get there and Ynoa is pitching. Isn’t that something? I know they’re not going for him. They’re going because they have Sunday plans or because their kids will get to run the bases after the game, unless that little post-game ritual gets canceled for extreme heat. They’re going because they like the ritual of going to an Orioles game in the summer even when the team is bad.

Ynoa, like David Hess before him, is basically who Brandon Hyde and Mike Elias are talking about when they say stuff like “This is where we are right now” with regards to pitching depth. They aren’t interested in rushing Keegan Akin into this mess just because the MLB rotation sucks and he’s the highest minor league prospect who doesn’t suck. They’re not rushing Bowie’s Zac Lowther or Alex Wells, either.

The Indians drafted Justin Bieber’s cousin (not true, except for in my head) in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, one pick after the Orioles chose Brenan Hanifee. They didn’t even have to pay him full slot money. Three years later, they’ve got a guy who’s 24 and has a K/BB ratio over 5. It was good scouting and it was good development too - they have been able to harness his strong strike-throwing ability into effective big league results. Bieber may be a bit homer-prone, but the ERA and FIP are nothing to sneeze at.

**

The Orioles have not won a series since April 22-24. They have not won consecutive games since May 4 and May 6. They’re currently 1-13 over their last 14 games. The chances of any of those things changing for the better this weekend are not great.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Indians?

This poll is closed

  • 51%
    0 (The Orioles get swept)
    (67 votes)
  • 38%
    1
    (50 votes)
  • 6%
    2
    (9 votes)
  • 2%
    3 (The Orioles sweep the Indians)
    (3 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now