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Orioles-Blue Jays series preview: Win or lose, the O’s will crush postseason dreams

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Whether the Orioles win or lose, they’re going to help determine who makes the AL postseason in the season’s final series.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles - Game One Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

A season of losing baseball for the Orioles all comes down to one final weekend, three games against the Blue Jays before it’s over. By now, you are probably well aware of the stakes. These are meaningless games for the Orioles, but the O’s play will determine a lot about who plays in the AL Wild Card game.

As of last night, these Jays are on the outside looking in. They are 88-70, where Seattle and Boston are tied for the road wild card spot at 89-71. The Yankees, unfortunately, are two games ahead of Seattle and Boston, so they’re probably pretty locked in as the home wild card team. A Game 163 tiebreaker is possible. A three-way tie scenario is possible.

The Jays probably need to come in here and sweep the Orioles to give themselves the best chance of being a part of any season-ending tie scenario. They must sweep to get above a tiebreaker and just make it in. Boston is playing the Nationals. Seattle is playing the Angels. Those teams have their problems. The Jays may even be already counting their chickens before their eggs hatch, thinking that they’re just going to run into an unmotivated 52-107 Orioles team.

That’s probably what the Red Sox thought too a few days ago, and then they lost two out of three and the series ended with the Orioles Twitter account changing its profile picture to Robert Andino. Amazing. Let me just go ahead and make a suggestion, if the Orioles over the next three games keep the Jays from the playoffs, they should update the profile pic to Mike Mussina, since Cito Gaston didn’t pitch him in the All-Star Game in Baltimore.

There are some stakes for the Orioles, too, in this series, sort of. We have spent a summer in Birdland eyeing the #1 draft pick in the 2022 draft. Yet after the O’s took two out of three from the Red Sox, they now find themselves two games behind the Arizona Diamondbacks. For all the months of national media sniping about how the Orioles are some uniquely horrible team in the existence of MLB, they may not even finish with the worst record this season.

At this point, I don’t care very much about the draft pick. I’d like to see the O’s play hard and kick the Jays off the ledge. Nothing against Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette and most of the rest of that team (except for last O’s-Jays series whiner Robbie Ray, who won’t be pitching in this one,) but it’s always more fun when the Orioles win. Thanks to Seattle’s September play, if the O’s knock out the Jays, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Red Sox benefit. The Mariners could make the postseason for the first time in 20 years.

Game 1: Friday, 7:07 Eastern

  • O’s starter: Thomas Eshelman (may follow opener) - 0-2, 7.20 ERA, 6.20 FIP in 25 IP
  • Jays starter: Steven Matz - 13-7, 3.88 ERA, 3.77 FIP in 143.2 IP

The Orioles have been desperate to assemble a collection of healthy pitchers to make starts and get innings in the season’s final week. This included returning Eshelman to the roster after they had already designated him for assignment twice in the past ten months.

In a better world for the near-future of the Orioles rebuild, this might have been a start going to, say, Dean Kremer. But Kremer had a 7.55 ERA in 13 starts earlier this year and upon being banished to Norfolk, posted a 5.09 ERA there for the rest of the season. It seems to me that it speaks poorly for Kremer’s chances as continuing as a rotation candidate that the O’s have got a possible opener and then Eshelman lined up in game 160 while Kremer is nowhere in sight.

The 2021 season has been a good one for Matz, and a counter to any AL elitists like myself who assume that any pitcher will stink when making the jump from the NL to the AL. Matz was traded to Toronto in January after parts of six seasons with the Mets. In the stat lines, it’s been a seamless jump. Matz is right about at his career totals for things like WHIP, K/9, and BB/9, and he’s below his career ERA to date. Pretty good campaign for a guy who’s in his final year before becoming a free agent.

Matz has seen the Orioles three times this year, surrendering ten earned runs in 15 innings. That’s a 6.00 ERA against this sad squad. Something like four runs in six innings might be enough to be better than the pu pu platter that the O’s will have pitching in this contest. Or, something weird might happen and it won’t be enough.

All other things being equal, I’d rather the Jays knock either the Yankees or Red Sox out of the postseason, but if this Jays team isn’t good enough to get past the Orioles in the season’s final weekend, you know what? They don’t deserve a damn thing. So I’d also rather see the Orioles win and maybe have some players take something positive into the offseason.

Game 2: Saturday, 3:07 Eastern

  • O’s starter: John Means - 6-8, 3.32 ERA, 4.39 FIP in 143.2 IP
  • Jays starter: Alek Manoah - 8-2, 3.35 ERA, 3.96 FIP in 104.2 IP

This is a matchup of former West Virginia Mountaineers. They did not overlap on campus. Means was drafted by the Orioles in the 11th round in 2014. Manoah was a Blue Jays first round pick in 2019 at #11 overall. There are many different paths to MLB. Some are just more direct than others.

Manoah, in a number of ways, is the sort of pitcher who Orioles fans hope will be showing up to turn the rebuilding process into a quality Orioles baseball team in a hurry. Owing to the pandemic, Manoah had never pitched higher than the no-longer-exists short-season A level prior to 2020. The Jays started him at Triple-A and only had him make three starts there before summoning him to the big club at the end of May.

Since then, Manoah has ripped off a rookie season to be envied. Manoah has struck out 10.1 batters per nine innings for the year and has struck out exactly three batters for every walk issued. The 6’6” righty averages 93.4mph on his fastball and has held batters to one home run per nine innings. There is some wildness to contend with: He’s hit 15 batters.

Is it luck? O’s fans would still be glad to have Manoah’s 3.99 FIP as any Orioles starter’s ERA, other than Means. Manoah does have a surprisingly low BABIP of .254. Then again, Means’s BABIP allowed is .237, fourth-lowest of any pitcher with 100+ innings pitched in 2021. Manoah faced the O’s twice in June, allowing five earned runs in 9.1 innings across the two starts.

Toronto is the AL offense with the highest slugging percentage and OPS, with a team OPS of .790. That’s crazy. It doesn’t matter whether they face right or left: .790 OPS vs. right and .792 vs. left. Means has not seen these Jays in the 2021 season up to this point.

Game 3: Sunday, 3:07 Eastern

  • O’s starter: Bruce Zimmermann - 4-4, 4.66 ERA, 5.22 FIP in 63.2 IP
  • Jays starter: Hyun Jin Ryu - 13-10, 4.39 ERA, 4.00 FIP in 164 IP

Ryu’s ERA of 4.39 has him at exactly league average of 100 in the park/league-adjusted ERA+ stat. By ERA+ he is the fifth-best Blue Jays starter. Imagine what that would be like! If you were an Orioles fan in 2014, you have seen it happen. The fifth-best SP by ERA was Bud Norris at 108. This is a hard thing to pull off. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that with their amazing offense and strong rotation that the Blue Jays are not far ahead of the pack for a playoff spot. The AL East, it ain’t easy.

Let’s give some credit to Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann, whose ERA+ is 99 - just a tiny shred below league average. He has a harder time due to facing offenses that aren’t the Orioles and with his home park being Camden Yards. Whatever pride his hometown team is playing for on the season’s final day, he’ll be the guy with the biggest chance to make a positive impact on the game’s result.

Zimmermann, like Means, has not faced these Jays yet this season. Ryu, on the other hand, has made five starts against the Orioles in 2021, allowing 16 earned runs in 26.2 innings to date. If I was Toronto and it comes down to this last game mattering, I might not feel too good about that fact.

**

That’s it. The Orioles season will be over after that. Depending on how the Jays and their wild card opponents play, it might be over for them too.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in the season-ending series against the Blue Jays?

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    0 (The Orioles are swept)
    (36 votes)
  • 40%
    1
    (59 votes)
  • 29%
    2
    (43 votes)
  • 4%
    3 (The Orioles sweep)
    (7 votes)
145 votes total Vote Now