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Thursday afternoon Orioles game thread: vs. Cubs, 3:05

Every game is an important one for the Orioles until they lose too many and it stops mattering.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

It would be hyperbolic to say that today’s Orioles game, the 118th of the season, is a must-win game for them. It is not. Their season and their hopes for a postseason berth will not be automatically over with a loss. It is, however, an important one to win. They have this home one-off against the Cubs, who are 49-67 on the season. There are not many games remaining against teams completely out of the AL playoff chase.

Every game from here on is going to be an important one for the Orioles, at least until they lose so many that it stops mattering for that reason. Right now, they’re 1.5 games out of a wild card spot. They have to pass at least two teams and hold off two other teams charging up below them. Some games, the Orioles will directly be able to peel back the deficit. Others, they’re just going to have to win and hope for help.

Back when this game was supposed to be played in June, the Orioles and Cubs had similar fortunes. The O’s were 24-33 after winning the first game of the series. The Cubs were 23-33 after the loss. It rained the next day, so here we are. Things have gone much better for the Orioles since then. They’ve continued to go poorly for the Cubs.

Today is a win and hope for help kind of day. You can, if you so desire, root for the Astros against the White Sox today (2:10 start). The other contenders will only be in action later in the evening, after this game will probably be over. The Blue Jays play the Yankees. The Royals play the Rays.

The Twins are off today, so the Orioles can at least pull into a tie with them as the first in line chasing the wild card. Remember, though, that the Twins hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Orioles, so the O’s have to get ahead of the Twins outright. Winning today still means they need to win again tomorrow and hope for help again. If they lose today, they’ll need even more help.

Orioles lineup

  1. Cedric Mullins - CF
  2. Adley Rutschman - C
  3. Ryan Mountcastle - 1B
  4. Anthony Santander - DH
  5. Ramón Urías - 3B
  6. Terrin Vavra - RF
  7. Austin Hays - LF
  8. Rougned Odor - 2B
  9. Jorge Mateo - SS

It is hard to ignore about the Orioles that two of their last four games saw them on the wrong end of a perfect game until at least the seventh inning. On Sunday, it did not help that Tyler Nevin and Brett Phillips were both in the starting lineup. Yesterday, it did not help that Robinson Chirinos was prominently involved.

None of those players are starting today. This is probably close to the best lineup the Orioles can field right now. One can certainly note that Austin Hays has a .491 OPS over the last 28 days and wonder if he should be replaced by Ryan McKenna right now.

Vavra in a corner outfield spot may also be questionable, though it’s not like that would be better with Santander out there; today’s Orioles DH is in the 4th percentile for Statcast Outs Above Average, which was his same percentile last season. Teams have probably noticed and that’s why Santander wasn’t dealt before the deadline.

Spenser Watkins pitches for the Orioles today. His most recent outing was long relief behind DL Hall’s debut start. That did not go well for Watkins. Hopefully he can reverse that course against a Cubs team that’s not good and isn’t going anywhere.

Cubs lineup

  1. Nick Madrigal - 2B
  2. Willson Contreras - C
  3. Ian Happ - LF
  4. Franmil Reyes - DH
  5. Nico Hoerner - SS
  6. Nelson Velasquez - RF
  7. P.J. Higgins - 1B
  8. Zach McKinstry - 3B
  9. Christopher Morel - CF

Starting for the Cubs is Adrian Sampson, a pitcher who I have absolutely, definitely heard of before today and did not assume was a rookie making his MLB debut when I first saw his name. In fact, Sampson is 30 and in his fifth MLB season, though only once, in 2019 when he was with the Rangers, has he topped 10 games started before today, when he makes his 10th start of 2022.