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Orioles-Blue Jays series preview: The O’s finally face their Canadian foes

More than two months into the season, the Orioles square off with Toronto for the first time, and may be missing a few players from their roster.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

So far this season, the Orioles have played 27 games against AL East opponents. Not one of them, until tonight, has come against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Weird! The O’s have already had four series against the Yankees alone, yet it’s taken until mid-June to get their first look at the Jays (whom they were originally scheduled to play on Opening Day until the lockout postponed the season’s first week). Frankly, considering how hot the Blue Jays are right now, the Orioles might be better off not playing them at all.

The Blue Jays, who were hovering between one and two games over .500, until mid-May, rattled off an eight-game winning streak starting May 24 and haven’t looked back. They’re now sitting in second place in the AL East, 11 games above the even-water mark, looking like very much like a force to be reckoned with.

The Jays, who had 91 wins last year but missed the postseason by one game, boast a young, talented lineup in which only one regular (center fielder George Springer) is 30 or older. They lead the American League with a .746 team OPS and have scored 263 runs, fifth most in the AL. Even though 2021 AL MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hasn’t matched the sky-high standards of last season — in which he led the league with 48 homers, a .401 OBP, .601 SLG, and 1.002 OPS — he has cracked 14 homers this year to go with an .813 OPS and is a menacing threat in the middle of the Toronto lineup.

The Blue Jays’ best hitter this year has been Springer, who has 12 home runs and an .870 OPS as the club’s leadoff man. Their squat, 5-foot-8 catcher Alejandro Kirk may not look much like a baseball player, but the guy can really hit. He’s batting .318/.401/.471 in 51 games. The Blue Jays have gotten above-average performances up and down the lineup, from second baseman Santiago Espinal and shortstop Bo Bichette to left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

The club’s pitching staff has been solid as well, carrying a 3.64 ERA that ranks fifth in the AL. Former Oriole Kevin Gausman, who signed with Toronto this past winter for five years and $110 million, has been worth every penny so far, while second-year right-hander Alek Manoah has broken out with a ridiculous 1.81 ERA and 217 ERA+. In the bullpen, closer and native Canadian Jordan Romano has a league-leading 16 saves in 18 attempts, set up by capable veterans such as Adam Cimber, Yimi Garcia, and David Phelps.

The Orioles will likely need to make a few roster moves ahead of this series in Toronto. Players who have not received COVID-19 vaccinations are prohibited from entering Canada. They can be placed on MLB’s restricted list and replaced on the roster for the entirety of the series, which the Orioles are expected to do for at least a couple of players, though no announcement has been made as of this writing. MASN’s Roch Kubatko noted that lefty Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander both landed on the COVID IL list in 2021 and declined to comment on their vaccination status at the time, saying “it was a private matter.”

In any case, any necessary roster moves could give the Orioles an opportunity to bring some new players to the majors for this series, possibly including #8 prospect Kyle Stowers. That would be fun!

Game 1: Monday, 7:07 PM, MASN 2

RHP Kyle Bradish (1-3, 6.45) vs. Alek Manoah (7-1, 1.81)

Bradish hasn’t had the smoothest transition to the majors after dominating Triple-A this year. Other than one superb start in St. Louis, which accounted for his only major league win so far, he’s slogged through too many high pitch counts and short outings. In each of his last two starts, he’s fallen exactly one out shy of qualifying for a victory, even when the O’s gave him ample run support. He was pulled from his last start against the Cubs with an 8-2 lead in the fifth inning, having thrown 105 pitches and issued five walks. He’ll need to attack the strike zone with a little more tenacity, though that’s easier said than done against the Guerreros and Springers of the world.

Manoah, meanwhile, had no such harsh adjustment to the bigs, excelling pretty much since the moment he was called up last year. He finished his rookie campaign with a 9-2 record, 3.22 ERA, and 1.048 WHIP in 2021, and this year he’s only become more effective. His spotless 1.81 ERA and 218 ERA+ lead the American League, and he’s averaging less than one baserunner per inning, despite a strikeout rate that has dipped from last year (from 10.2 K/9 to 7.9). The 24-year-old, the 11th overall pick in the 2019 draft, has yet to allow more than three runs in any appearance this year, and 10 of his 11 outings have been quality starts.

Manoah didn’t exactly endear himself to the Orioles last season, when he was ejected from a June 19 start in Baltimore for drilling Maikel Franco after coughing up back-to-back home runs. Not his classiest moment. Ryan Mountcastle knocked two of those dingers and Cedric Mullins one.

Game 2: Tuesday, 7:07 PM, MASN 2

RHP Jordan Lyles (3-5, 4.97) vs. Yusei Kikuchi (2-2, 4.44)

Up until a few starts ago, Lyles was looking like a particularly savvy signing by Mike Elias, a veteran hurler who was eating innings and keeping the Orioles in games. That hasn’t been the case for his past three starts. Lyles hasn’t gone more than five innings in any of them, and has been tattooed for 26 hits and 13 earned runs in those three games, all O’s losses. He’s looking more like the pitcher who struggled to a 5.60 ERA the previous two years with Texas than the guy who had early-season success with the Birds. Can he turn it around against Toronto? He’s faced the Jays only once in the past five years, but they blistered him for six runs — including four homers — last July. Guerrero and Teoscar Hernandez took him deep.

Kikuchi, in his first year with the Blue Jays after spending his first three MLB seasons in Seattle, has been a perfectly decent back-end starter. The 31-year-old southpaw, who pitched nine years in Japan before arriving stateside, has faced the Orioles twice, most recently when he was on the wrong end of John Means’ no-hitter last year.

Game 3: Wednesday, 7:07 PM, MASN 2

LHP Bruce Zimmermann (2-5, 5.52) vs. Jose Berrios (5-2, 4.73)

Things have gone south in a hurry for the Baltimore native Zimmermann, who was an early success story with a 3.36 ERA through seven starts. Since then, he’s been utterly demolished, with a 9.47 mark — and an eye-popping 12 home runs allowed — in his last five outings. He thinks he’s been tipping his pitches but hasn’t had any luck fixing the problem as yet. The Blue Jays might not be the right opponent to help get Zimmermann back on track. The only time he’s faced them, the Jays bombed him for five hits and three runs in the 2021 season finale, chasing him in the first inning. Springer tagged him for a leadoff homer.

Berrios, despite his years as an ace for the Twins, is arguably the Blue Jays’ least effective starting pitcher at the moment. His strikeout rate is down to 7.5 this year compared to an 8.9 career mark, while his hits per nine rate is up to 9.6 (career 8.3). It’s not quite what the Jays envisioned when they traded two promising prospects for him last July and then signed him to a seven-year, $131 million extension. Still, the 28-year-old figures to have plenty of good seasons left in him. He’ll surely enjoy facing the Orioles, against whom he’s a perfect 6-0 in eight career starts with a 2.94 ERA.

Game 4: Thursday, 3:07 PM, MASN 2

RHP Tyler Wells (3-4, 3.86) vs. Kevin Gausman (5-5, 2.67)

Well, it was bound to happen sometime. The Orioles, for the first time, will face their former top prospect Gausman, who never really lived up to expectations with the club after the O’s drafted him fourth overall in 2012. You can call it another case of the Orioles failing to develop a pitcher who later flourished elsewhere, though in this case it wasn’t immediate — after the Orioles, two other teams (the Braves and Reds) gave up on Gausman before he had a breakout 2021 season with the Giants. That’s probably not much consolation.

Gausman has kicked his career into yet another gear after signing his free agent deal with the Jays. He’s slashed his walk rate to 1.3 — half of his career rate — and has coughed up only two roundtrippers in 70.2 innings this year. In fact, in his first five starts with the Blue Jays, spanning 31.2 innings, he didn’t allow a single walk or home run. Even his excellent 2.67 ERA doesn’t reflect how awesome he’s been, considering his league-best FIP of 1.75. Gausman is now every bit the pitcher the O’s hoped he would become when they drafted him. Too bad he’s doing it for a divisional opponent.

At least the Orioles can occasionally develop a pitcher of their own, as they’ve done with Tyler Wells since plucking him from Minnesota in the 2020 Rule 5 draft. His conversion to the rotation has been a resounding success, with a 3.86 ERA that leads all O’s starters. He hasn’t given up more than three runs in a game since his first major league start April 10. The Blue Jays may be his toughest test yet, though. Last year he faced them six times, all in relief, and they scorched him for eight runs and 11 hits in 6.2 innings.

Poll

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

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    4 (Orioles will sweep)
    (7 votes)
  • 4%
    3
    (8 votes)
  • 19%
    2
    (37 votes)
  • 53%
    1
    (103 votes)
  • 18%
    0 (Orioles get swept)
    (36 votes)
191 votes total Vote Now