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Orioles-Yankees series preview: The start of a month of playing spoilers, or not

Who the Orioles beat and don’t beat in September will go a long way to determining who makes the playoffs in what spot.

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

There is no team in the entirety of Major League Baseball that has suffered more defeats to the Baltimore Orioles over the course of the 2021 season than the New York Yankees. That’s not to say the O’s have played well against these Yankees, because of course they haven’t. Entering this series, the O’s are 5-8. A 5-8 record is still a whole lot better than the 1-18 the O’s racked up against the Rays.

The Orioles, as you may have heard, were the only team in MLB to be eliminated from a postseason spot before the calendar even turned to September. The only way they will have any impact on who makes the playoffs or not is by who they beat and who they lose to over this last month. They are the spoilers. The Yankees are likely already locked in on a wild card spot at best thanks to the Rays piling up wins against the O’s in a way the Yankees could not.

It is probably the case that the Yankees are a better team right now than they were in April when they lost three games to the Orioles that month. New York was certainly on a heater in August, going 21-8 for the month. The Orioles were only 17 wins off!

The stark difference between these two squads is in the pitching. The Orioles persist in having the worst ERA in MLB, with a 5.85 mark as a team. They are unbelievably bad. The next-worst AL team ERA is the Twins, at 4.95. The Yankees are all the way at the other end of the scale, sporting an AL-best 3.64 ERA. It is a lot easier to have a good pitching staff when you have a payroll in the neighborhood of $200 million, although the Yankees only signed two of their starting pitchers as free agents, so I won’t act like that’s the whole reason. It’s nice to be able to sign Gerrit Cole, though. Cole won’t be pitching in this series.

Neither of the former Orioles pitchers who’ve become Yankees free agent signings will be pitching in this series. Zack Britton had season-ending elbow surgery last week. Darren O’Day had hamstring surgery that ended his season in July.

Game 1: Friday, 7:05

  • O’s starter: John Means - 5-6, 3.46 ERA, 4.56 FIP in 114.1 IP
  • Yankees starter: Nestor Cortes Jr. - 2-2, 2.77 ERA, 3.58 FIP in 61.2 IP

Orioles fans with a good memory may recall this is the same Cortes who was one of three Rule 5 picks made by the Orioles for the 2018 season. They returned him to the Yankees after he’d pitched in four games. Cortes eventually became a bad pitcher for the 2019 Yankees bullpen, was traded to Seattle, and pitched five bad games for them last year. The Mariners let Cortes become a free agent, the Yankees plucked him back up, and then the standard Yankees dark magic took over.

Cortes did great as a multi-inning reliever and now he’s done well in eight starts too. He’s pitched to a 3.00 ERA in his time in the rotation. Not bad to find a guy like that between the couch cushions when another starter is hurt. Though Cortes is a lefty, he’s held right-handed batters to a .200/.273/.315 batting line this year. That’s a small sample size, but potentially a concern for the righty-heavy Orioles lineup.

Some people in the baseball media world were ready to proclaim Means a failure in the aftermath of MLB’s new foreign substance prohibition for pitchers, which went into effect while Means was on the injured list. Means did have a rough first month or so but is now working on back-to-back quality starts. It’s a little early to bury the former All-Star. Hopefully he can keep this stretch going against the Yankees. Means last saw this team in early April, when he gave up one run in a 4.2 inning outing.

Game 2: Saturday, 1:05

  • O’s starter: Chris Ellis - 1-0, 3.09 ERA, 4.36 FIP in 11.2 IP (O’s + TB combined)
  • Yankees starter: Jordan Montgomery - 5-5, 3.52 ERA, 3.61 FIP in 130.1 IP

There’s a now-classic internet joke known simply by the shorthand “milkshake duck.” The 2021 Orioles pitching staff has its own version of the joke play out again and again. “All of Birdland loves this random pitcher acquired from nowhere, who’s had two good outings since joining the team!” (two outings later) “We regret to inform you the pitcher sucks at pitching.” It’s happened to a whole bunch of guys this year. Ellis facing the Yankees will test whether he can avoid this fate for one more game.

For the Yankees starter Montgomery, the 2021 season has seen something of a return to the form that won him praise in his rookie campaign in 2017. That was interrupted by a diagnosis that required Tommy John surgery early in the 2018 season, which knocked him out of big league action until the very end of the 2019 season.

Montgomery had a rough 5.11 ERA in 10 starts last year, though his 3.87 FIP suggested better times may be coming. In 2021, that’s exactly what’s happened. The former fourth round pick is pitching a lot like he did all the way back in 2017. This will be his fourth time facing the Orioles this season. Two of these were good starts, while he gave up five runs in three innings in the third.

Game 3: Sunday, 1:05

  • O’s starter: Keegan Akin - 2-8, 6.90 ERA, 5.07 FIP in 75.2 IP
  • Yankees starter: Corey Kluber - 4-3, 3.61 ERA, 3.85 FIP in 57.1 IP

It is a little early to proclaim that we are now in the Keeganaissance, but the fact is that after taking a lot of beatings throughout the season, Akin’s last two starts have been his best two starts, and have offered just a little bit of hope that maybe there’s something more than a busted prospect there.

Yankee Stadium may be a tougher test for Akin. The Yankees lineup, held up by the twin pillars of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, is never easy, and when facing that lineup in New York it’s going to be even tougher for a pitcher like Akin who doesn’t get many ground balls. Akin’s GB% for the season is only 34.6. It’s going to be tough to thrive if two out of three balls are hit in the air by the likes of Judge and Stanton.

Kluber missed about three months of the 2021 season with a rotator cuff strain. This will only be his second start back from that injury. The first start back was not good. He gave up five runs in four innings to the Angels. I imagine he will be glad to get to face the Orioles, being that he is right-handed and the 2021 Orioles as a team hit .230/.298/.388 against RHP. What’s more, the Orioles only OPS .648 on the road.


In the last series preview poll, 50% of voters correctly predicted that the Orioles would win one game against the Blue Jays.


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

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    3 (The Orioles sweep)
    (16 votes)
  • 10%
    (14 votes)
  • 43%
    (56 votes)
  • 33%
    0 (The Orioles are swept)
    (43 votes)
129 votes total Vote Now