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Orioles-Twins series preview: A first place team comes to town for four games

The Twins are the only above-.500 team in their division. The Orioles face them through Thursday.

Chicago White Sox v Minnesota Twins
Familiar face, different uniform. Dylan Bundy and a guy he was traded for (Kyle Bradish) are both scheduled to pitch Wednesday.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

22 games into the Orioles season, the only thing that makes any sense about them is their record. After beating the Red Sox yesterday, they’re 8-14, which puts them on pace to finish the season with a 59-103 record. If you’d been told before the season that John Means would make two starts and then need Tommy John surgery, even 59 wins would have seemed like an optimistic guess.

The twin questions, “Why the heck is the Orioles offense so bad?” and “Why the heck is the Orioles pitching staff so surprisingly non-horrible?” may have similar answers. The people who keep track of these things are already assembling evidence that MLB has once again quietly deadened its baseballs, increasing the drag coefficient. The introduction of humidors into 20 parks that never used them before, making all 30 stadiums have them, is surely also a factor in the depressed offense.

Even considering this, it feels like the Orioles offense should not be as bad as it has been, scoring just 3.2 runs per game, and it feels like Orioles pitching should not be as good as it has been, allowing 4.2 runs per game. How this will all shake out feels like it is going to just be one series at a time waiting for things to start changing.

This week, the Orioles are lined up for a four-game dose of the Minnesota Twins. The Twins come into this series as the leaders of the AL Central, by virtue of being the only above-.500 team in that division. They have a 13-9 record because they’ve gone 9-1 over their past ten games, including a seven-game win streak in there. The Orioles haven’t won seven straight since August 2017, also the franchise’s last winning month.

So far, the Twins have found success by pairing an overall middle-of-the-pack offense (.697 OPS as a team, 15th in MLB) with a great pitching staff (3.15 ERA, 6th in MLB and 2nd in AL). Byron Buxton continues to unleash himself on the world; he hit his seventh home run in only 14 games yesterday, and has an OPS of 1.100. Give me a moment to put on my Inspector Gadget trenchcoat. Okay. Wowzers!

Game 1: Monday, 7:05pm, MASN

Starting pitchers: Chris Paddack (3 GS, 3.68 ERA/1.69 FIP) vs. Tyler Wells (4 GS, 5.54 ERA/5.66 FIP)

One bit of bad news for the Orioles going into this series is that of the three announced Twins pitchers so far, Paddack has the worst ERA of the bunch. Paddack’s 2022 ERA to date is the same as Mike Mussina’s career ERA. That’s pretty good! Except in 2022, with the deadened balls and humidors, it’s actually below average. Yet as you see from the FIP, perhaps Paddack is unlucky to have such a high ERA. He has faced 60 batters so far and has walked one. The loneliest number is not so lonely in that context.

Wells has not had such a good beginning to his own season. Is this starting rotation experiment going to work out for the former Rule 5 pick? The question will not be definitively answered tonight, but it would be nice if Wells can have another positive game to build off of his last start, when he held the Yankees lineup to two runs in five innings.

With rosters being cut down to 26 players as of today, the Orioles probably hope Wells can go at least five innings regardless of results so that the bullpen will have fewer innings to cover. Fortunately, Sunday’s win over the Red Sox didn’t blow out the bullpen, with Jordan Lyles going six innings and Travis Lakins Sr. pitching multiple innings in relief.

Game 2: Tuesday, 7:05pm, MASN

Starting pitchers: Joe Ryan (4 GS, 1.17 ERA/2.92 FIP) vs. Bruce Zimmermann (4 GS, 0.93 ERA/2.43 FIP)

“Who in the world is Joe Ryan?” I asked myself as I started preparing this article and looked up the upcoming pitchers. The Twins acquired the 26-year-old Ryan in the trade that sent Nelson Cruz to the Rays last year. The dude had a heck of an April, holding batters to just a .132/.205/.237 batting line over his four starts this year. He’s basically turned the league into Anthony Bemboom - so far. This is his first full big league season.

There are essentially no good matchups for the Orioles offense, given how they have performed so far, but pitchers whose track record so far this year has been great will be a particularly bad draw. This does not feel like a series where they will come alive. Of course, one never knows.

Baltimore’s own Bruce Zimmermann will be back in front of the home crowd, probably smaller than his first two home crowds this season. He’s got an even better ERA than Ryan’s, so good for him! Maybe that will still be true after Tuesday’s game. Along with Buxton, the guys in the Twins lineup who are putting up numbers against lefties are Kyle Garlick, Trevor Larnach, and Max Kepler.

Game 3: Wednesday, 7:05pm, MASN

Starting pitchers: Dylan Bundy (4 GS, 2.95 ERA/2.91 FIP) vs. Kyle Bradish (1 GS, 3.00 ERA/5.05 FIP)

This is pure, uncut narrative right here. Bundy, the guy the Orioles never could develop into the ace he was supposed to be, pitches in the same game as Bradish, the headliner in the trade where the Orioles traded Bundy away. The trade will not be a success or failure based on the outcome here, but if Bundy dominates and Bradish is lit up, that will be a sour outcome for O’s fans.

Bundy, it must be said, was absolutely horrible last year, dropping a 6.06 ERA over 90.2 innings. He would have fit right in back on the Orioles with that kind of performance. He had to settle for only $5 million guaranteed on his first free agent contract, which is less than he made last year. Four starts with a sub-1.00 WHIP is not a bad way to begin the campaign to get the Twins to pick up his $11 million club option for 2022.

There’s not a whole lot to say about Bradish after one big league start. Orioles fans will take two earned runs in six innings from a starter any day of the week. Bradish is probably going to need to start striking out more batters (only two in his debut) if he is going to continue having outings like that. A lack of strikeouts probably means you don’t have a putaway pitch, so batters will get a bunch of foul balls and drive up your pitch count before making outs or getting on base. The Twins have struck out 200 times this year. Maybe that’s good news for Bradish.

Game 4: Thursday, 7:05pm, MASN

Starting pitchers: TBD for Twins, maybe Chris Archer? (4 GS, 2.93 ERA/5.53 FIP) vs. Spenser Watkins (4 GS, 2.55 ERA/5.14 FIP)

Here are two guys whose early results have diverged from expected results in ways that have favored the pitchers. There’s a lot of that going on early in the 2022 season. A number of Orioles hitters are mighty familiar with this. Ramón Urías is hitting .194; his Statcast expected batting average (xBA) is .289. Ryan Mountcastle is hitting .247 with an xBA of .333. Trey Mancini’s also on the wrong end here, batting .224 with an xBA at .322.

Twins batters have not suffered the same kind of bad luck. The only large disparity on that team is Kepler, who is hitting .258 but has an xBA of .306. Yeah, okay, but he’s got an .887 OPS for the season. He’s not in dire straits without better luck. I don’t know when things will start to turn around for those Orioles batters. Maybe this series will start to see them heading in the right direction.

**

I wonder again: What is up with this Orioles team? The question will not be settled over the next four games, but things might become a bit more clearly trending in one direction or another.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    4 (first sweep of the year!)
    (11 votes)
  • 6%
    3
    (13 votes)
  • 50%
    2
    (100 votes)
  • 29%
    1
    (59 votes)
  • 7%
    0 (The Orioles are swept)
    (14 votes)
197 votes total Vote Now