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Orioles-White Sox series preview: A tough place to snap the skid

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The Orioles carry a nine-game losing streak into Chicago against the first-place White Sox. If they’re not careful, it’ll reach an unlucky 13.

MLB: Game One-Baltimore Orioles at Chicago White Sox Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Well, playing against terrible teams hasn’t helped the Orioles win any games lately. Will facing a good team turn out any better?

The Birds are in a nine-game tailspin, getting swept in three straight series, including the first two of this road trip against the last-place Nationals and Twins. Now they take on the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox for four in the Windy City.

The White Sox have been an excellent team on both sides of the ball. They boast a stellar starting rotation that includes the top two ERA leaders in the American League, Carlos Rodon (1.27) and Lance Lynn (1.51). Their offense holds the best OBP in the American League at .342, led by reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu, former batting champ Tim Anderson, and breakout rookie Yermin Mercedes, who at age 28 has gotten his first big league action and is batting .335/.384/.506 in 44 games. Mercedes is a former Orioles farmhand; he spent 2015-2017 splitting time between three minor league levels, showing a potent bat but little defensive ability. The O’s lost him to the White Sox in the minor league Rule 5 draft in 2017.

At a glance, the White Sox might be considered the front-runner to represent the American League in the World Series, but two things are holding them back from elite status.

The first is injuries, particularly in the outfield. Slugging left fielder Eloy Jimenez tore his left pectoral tendon in spring training. He’ll miss five to six months, but fortunately is not dead, despite what confusing White Sox tweets would have you believe. And center fielder Luis Robert, a Gold Glove winner and Rookie of the Year runner-up last year, suffered a torn hip flexor in early May that will sideline him for three or four months.

Then there’s the second major obstacle the White Sox are dealing with: their own manager. Chicago stunned the baseball world by hiring Hall of Famer Tony La Russa in October, 10 years after he last managed in the bigs. La Russa was reportedly hand-picked by owner Jerry Reinsdorf over the objections of his front office, reuniting the skipper with the team he helmed from 1979-1986.

Critics immediately pounced, charging that the 76-year-old La Russa was too old school and out-of-touch to manage in today’s game. And so far, well, La Russa has done nothing to dispel that notion. He didn’t know a rule about extra-inning baserunners, forcing closer Liam Hendriks to needlessly run the bases in one instance. And most egregiously, La Russa lambasted his own hitter, Mercedes, for hitting a home run on a 3-0 count against a position player, calling the rookie “clueless” and promising his actions would be met with “a consequence.” La Russa’s hard-line enforcement of unwritten rules got him mercilessly mocked on Twitter and even clowned by his own players.

It’s the kind of situation that seems like a powder keg waiting to explode in the White Sox clubhouse. It probably won’t have any particular effect on this upcoming series, though, so the Orioles could be in for a rough weekend against this talented bunch.

Game 1: Thursday, 8:10 PM ET

LHP Bruce Zimmermann (2-3, 5.59) vs. RHP Dylan Cease (2-1, 3.18)

The Orioles’ ongoing rotation roulette landed back on Zimmermann recently, and he responded by coughing up a 5-0 first-inning lead in a loss to Washington on Saturday. It’s not what you want. It’s also not great that he’ll be facing a White Sox lineup that hits lefties (.282/.359/.475) significantly better than righties (.247/.337/.385), with a heavily right-handed lineup.

The White Sox acquired Cease along with Eloy Jimenez in a crosstown swap with the Cubs for Jose Quintana in 2017, a deal that has worked out swimmingly for the Sox. After two erratic seasons, Cease has put things together by drastically cutting down his home run rate (from 1.9 HR/9 last year to a meager 0.6 this year) and ratcheting up his strikeout rate (from 6.8 to 11.1). He’s still a little wild, averaging 4.8 walks per nine. Cease has never faced the Birds, and Maikel Franco (2-for-8 with two doubles) is the only current Oriole with a hit against him.

Game 2: Friday, 8:10 PM ET

RHP Matt Harvey (3-5, 6.31) vs. LHP Dallas Keuchel (3-1, 4.28)

Wow, did the wheels fall off Matt Harvey’s season quickly, or what? His collapse coincided exactly with his return to his former stomping grounds at Citi Field, the place where his once-great career first started to go bad. Entering that May 12 start against the Mets, Harvey carried a 3.60 ERA and hadn’t allowed more than four runs in any start. In three starts since, Harvey has been tagged for five or more earned runs each time, raising his ERA to an unsightly 6.31. I would say he’s pitching for his job, but let’s be honest, who do the Orioles have to replace him?

Keuchel, a former Cy Young winner and two-time All-Star with the Astros, had a spectacular debut season with the White Sox last year, posting a 1.99 ERA in 11 starts to finish fifth in Cy Young voting. Keuchel has always been a guy who has success without elite strikeout rates, but he’s really testing those limits this year with a career low 4.6 K/9. The O’s lineup has been much better against southpaws this year than right-handers, but very few have hit Keuchel well. Current Orioles hitters are a combined 3-for-22 with no extra-base hits against him.

Game 3: Saturday, 2:10 PM ET

LHP John Means (4-0, 1.79) vs. Lance Lynn (5-1, 1.51)

Even if the Orioles’ recent play has turned you off from watching them, you’ll want to make an exception for this game, which pits two of the three best pitchers in the American League by ERA: Lynn (1.51) and Means (1.79). Lynn, in his last start, finally earned enough innings to qualify for the league leaderboards, allowing him to supplant Means atop the list — until his teammate, Carlos Rodon, supplanted him atop the list yesterday with his 1.29 ERA.

Means has continued to excel since his May 5 no-hitter, but has had two possible wins taken away because of O’s bullpen collapses. He made two starts against the White Sox in 2019, winning one and losing one and going five innings in each. Tim Anderson tagged him for a home run.

Lynn flirted with a no-no of his own in his last start, holding the Cardinals hitless until the sixth. The veteran righty, acquired from the Rangers in December, hasn’t had anything close to a bad outing in his eight starts this year; he’s yet to give up more than three earned runs in any of them, and he’s got 11-, 10-, and nine-strikeout performances to his name. Trey Mancini is the Oriole most familiar with him, with a homer and a triple against Lynn in his career.

Game 4: Sunday, 2:10 PM ET

LHP Keegan Akin (0-0, 6.10) vs. Lucas Giolito (4-4, 4.04)

This was to be Dean Kremer’s turn in the rotation before the Orioles optioned him to Norfolk yesterday. In his place, Akin will get his first starting assignment of 2021 after pitching four games in relief. Akin was supposed to be part of the Orioles’ season-opening rotation until a dismal spring training got him banished to the alternate site. His 6.10 ERA in 10.1 big league innings this year doesn’t instill confidence that he’s gotten things figured out, but he did work to a decent 4.03 ERA in six starts last year.

Giolito will be the second pitcher in this series with a no-hitter under his belt, throwing one last Aug. 25 against the Pirates. He’s been a bit more hittable this year than last (7.1 H/9, up from 5.8), but is still averaging nearly 11 strikeouts per nine. The only time he’s faced the Orioles was during his horrific 2018 season, when they clobbered him in two starts, before he turned his career around the following year. Mancini homered against him.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    4 (Orioles will sweep!)
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    3
    (1 vote)
  • 8%
    2
    (9 votes)
  • 48%
    1
    (53 votes)
  • 39%
    0 (Orioles will get swept)
    (43 votes)
109 votes total Vote Now