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Orioles-Angels series preview: It’s Sho time

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The Orioles get their first look in two years at the player who’s reinventing baseball as we know it.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles wrap up a cross-country 10-game road trip that has taken them to Buffalo, Houston, and now Los Angeles, where they’ll thankfully play their final West Coast series of the year. Thanks to their unexpected sweep of the Astros, the Birds actually have a chance to clinch a winning road trip if they’re able to take at least two out of three from the Angels. But to do so, they’ll have to contain the most exciting all-around player in the game.

No, not that one. Mike Trout is still the best, but he’s been out since mid-May with a calf strain that will shelve him until at least the All-Star break. Instead, it’s his teammate Shohei Ohtani who’s quickly becoming the face of baseball with his unprecedented performance in 2021.

It’s incredible to think that a single person could be both a team’s best starting pitcher and best hitter, but Ohtani is that guy for the Angels — as he would be for plenty of other clubs, too. His unparalleled skills are perhaps best evidenced by his April double feature in which he hit a 115-mph home run and then threw a 100-mph fastball in the same inning.

On the mound, Ohtani is head and shoulders above his rotation mates, with a 128 ERA+ that far outpaces any other Angels starter, and that’s even after he was torched for seven runs at Yankee Stadium without getting out of the first inning Wednesday. He’s averaging 12.5 strikeouts per nine, thanks to that blistering, triple-digit fastball, all after he barely pitched the last two years due to Tommy John surgery.

But it’s at the plate that Ohtani has been especially brilliant. His 28 home runs lead the majors and his 1.045 OPS is best in the American League. He’s slugging a ridiculous .685, again tops in the AL. Last night he was deservedly voted the starting designated hitter for the AL All-Star team, and combined with his strong performance as a pitcher, Ohtani’s getting major MVP buzz halfway through the year. We simply haven’t seen anything like him since the days of Babe Ruth.

And yet, the Angels are once again a disappointment, sitting in fourth place at 39-41. It boggles the mind that this club could perpetually be such a non-entity when it’s employed superstars like Trout and Ohtani for years. Something always seems to go wrong, and this year it’s the pitching staff, whose 5.04 ERA is second-worst in the AL (ahead of only, yes, the Orioles). Former Oriole Dylan Bundy, who emerged as the Angels’ staff ace last year, has collapsed to a 1-7 record and 6.58 ERA this season, giving up two homers every nine innings. The rotation (5.25 ERA) and bullpen (4.79) have been about equally unremarkable, so the O’s have a chance to carry over their hot bats from the Astros series.

Game 1: Friday, 9:38 PM ET

LHP Keegan Akin (0-4, 7.11) vs. RHP Griffin Canning (5-4, 4.95)

Akin has now made as many starts this year as he did in his 2020 rookie season — six — and has been worse across the board, with an ERA (7.48) almost three and a half runs higher, an opponents’ OPS (.896) nearly 150 points higher, a much lower strikeout rate (8.1 compared to 13.7), and an average of one walk every two innings. In each of his last three starts, Akin has been torched for five or more runs. Simply put, 2021 has been a mess for him, and the fact that neither Akin nor Dean Kremer has developed as an even halfway competent back-end starter this year has been a real bummer for the Orioles’ rebuilding effort.

Canning, a 25-year-old righty, was originally slated to start against the Yankees last night before their game was washed out. Now in his third season in the bigs, the 2017 second-round pick has settled in as a back-end starter, usually topping out at five or six innings without wowing you. He faced the Orioles twice in his rookie season in 2019 and was hit hard both times, including that ridiculous 16-inning game July 25 that ended with a Stevie Wilkerson save, where Canning was the losing pitcher by allowing five runs in the final two frames.

Game 2: Saturday, 10:07 PM ET

RHP Jorge Lopez (2-10, 5.92) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (5-3, 5.09)

Well, hello, old friend. The Orioles will get their first look at Cobb since trading him to the Angels in February after three mostly forgettable years in Baltimore. He hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with his new club, posting a 5.09 ERA that includes severe home/road splits: a 2.83 mark in five starts at pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium, compared to a horrific 7.77 in six road starts. The Orioles did well to acquire an intriguing prospect, Jahmai Jones, for Cobb, although truth be told he’d still be the best hurler in their current rotation.

Case in point: Jorge Lopez enters this game as the losingest pitcher in MLB, with an ERA of nearly six...and he’s arguably the best starter the O’s will use in this series. Yeah, things aren’t great for the Orioles rotation. In his last start, Lopez was tagged for a season-worst 10 hits and matched a season high with four walks against the Blue Jays. Real talk: is it possible Lopez will reach 20 losses this year? He figures to stick in the rotation for a while no matter how ineffective he is, and his team doesn’t win many games, so it could happen. No major league pitcher has lost 20 in a season since Detroit’s Mike Maroth in 2003.

Game 3: Sunday, 4:07 PM ET

RHP Thomas Eshelman (0-1, 6.57) vs. LHP Patrick Sandoval (2-2, 3.89)

When the O’s acquired the soft-tossing Eshelman in a minor league trade in 2019, I would not have predicted he’d still be around and making starts in year three. But as is a familiar theme, the Orioles don’t have many better options. Eshelman is yet to get through five innings in any of his six starts this year (three in the majors, three in the minors), and big league hitters are batting .314 with an .859 OPS against him. He’s faced the Angels once before, throwing 4.1 strong innings of relief in that aforementioned 16-inning game in 2019.

Sandoval is a former Mike Elias draftee, selected in the 11th round by the Astros in 2015, when the current O’s GM was Houston’s scouting director. The Angels acquired him in a 2018 trade and he’s having his best year so far; Sandoval has yet to allow more than three runs in any of his seven starts this season. The 24-year-old lefty has never faced the Orioles.

Poll

How many games will the Orioles win in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    3 (Orioles will sweep!)
    (7 votes)
  • 17%
    2
    (17 votes)
  • 64%
    1
    (63 votes)
  • 10%
    0 (Orioles will get swept)
    (10 votes)
97 votes total Vote Now