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Orioles-Pirates series preview: Rebuilding at different rates

The Orioles return to the friendly confines of Camden Yards for another opportunity to beat up on a team whose playoff aspirations have long since evaporated.

Pirates shortstop Oneil Cruz points toward the dugout Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There is an undeniable link between the professional baseball teams in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The have faced one another in the World Series twice (1971 & ‘79), with the Pirates winning both times. And the two clubs have endured similar stretches of promise and ineptitude, particularly over the last 30 years.

More recently, both franchises entered into (yet another) intentional rebuild. In November of 2018, the Orioles hired Mike Elias from the Astros to oversee their efforts. Almost exactly one year later, the Pirates enticed Ben Cherington away from the Blue Jays to call the shots on their end.

Fast forward to 2022, and it is the Orioles who have pulled well ahead in their goal to reinvigorate a once-great team. If you are reading this site, you are plenty familiar with what the Birds have done well. So, let’s talk about the Pirates instead.

Pittsburgh enters the weekend in third place in the NL Central, but that position is quite flattering. Their record is 43-62, and their run differential is -150, the second-worst mark in baseball. It’s ugly, they are just fortunate to play in baseball’s worst division.

The biggest problem for the Pirates is their lineup. They have scored the fewest runs in the NL and the third-fewest in MLB, and that was with Daniel Vogelbach, who posted a 116 OPS+ prior to being traded to the Mets. The team’s biggest offensive force remaining is center fielder Bryan Reynolds, who they managed to hold onto through the trade deadline. But even he has seen a return to earth after a career-best season in 2021.

Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz do provide reasons to be excited as a Pirates fan. Hayes is an elite defender at third base, and his peripheral offensive numbers indicate that his stat sheet will, eventually, look much better than the .669 OPS he currently possesses. Cruz, 23, is a rookie and is experiencing some expected growing pains (.202/.236/.393 in July), but he is also a physical freak at 6-foot-7 who can run like a deer and has a cannon from the shortstop position.

There isn’t as much interest in what is happening on the mound, particularly since they traded away ace José Quintana. The bullpen could be a bit of a mess this series as closer David Bednar (and his 12.15 K/9 rate) just hit the IL with back inflammation this week.

Game 1: Friday, August 5th, 7:05 p.m., MASN

RHP Dean Kremer (3-3, 3.86 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Keller (3-7, 4.37 ERA)

July was rough for Dean Kremer. Batters teed off on him to the tune of a .934 OPS last month, and he served up five home runs after giving up just one in all of June. He can’t be allowed to face a lineup for a third time. Over 10 starts, batters are slugging .722 against him when faced for a third time. Hopefully a start against the light-hitting Pirates allows for a little leeway.

Mitch Keller probably steps into the “ace” hole that was vacated by Quintana, and his July performance warrants it. He had a 2.61 ERA over five starts, each one lasting at least six innings. The 26-year-old has been really good in his last four starts, in which he has allowed five earned runs over 25 innings while striking out 21 and walking five.

Game 2: Saturday, August 6th, 5:05 p.m., MASN 2

RHP Austin Voth (1-1, 5.54 ERA) vs. RHP JT Brubaker (2-9, 4.40 ERA)

It defies logic, but Voth keeps on putting forward competitive outings for the Orioles. His ERA since joining the Birds is 2.84, his ERA+ is 134, and he is striking out nearly a batter per inning. He is getting better too. His last outing was the best of the year. The 30-year-old threw a season-high 77 pitches, tossed five shutout innings, and struck out six.

Brubaker is in the midst of his finest big league season. The 28-year-old is on pace for a career high in innings as he has stayed healthy all year and provided league-average production while striking out more than a batter per inning. That said, he is starting to trend in the wrong direction. Both his ERA and WHIP have gone up the last two months, and he got crushed in his most recent start: 4.1 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 0 BB, 4 SO.

Game 3: Sunday, August 7th, 1:35 p.m., MASN 2

RHP Spenser Watkins (4-1, 3.80 ERA) vs. RHP Bryse Wilson (1-6, 6.20 ERA)

The Orioles would be in a much tougher position without the contributions of Voth and Watkins in the rotation. Perhaps Watkins is even more surprising because he had already spent a season in the organization, and it didn’t seem like there was much more potential to uncover. Instead, he has flipped a switch, and just put forward the best month of his career, allowing six earned runs over 23 innings in July and then started August with a gem against the Rangers.

Wilson’s overall numbers look a lot worse than the pitcher that has taken the mound since returning from a midseason minor league stint. He was promoted back to Pittsburgh on July 2. Since then, the righty has a 3.62 ERA over 27.1 innings. However, there are some peripherals that do not look good for him. He has only struck out 15 batters and opponents have an .833 OPS against him. The biggest improvement has been a significant reduction in walks—only three in that time.

Poll

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

  • 1%
    0 (get swept)
    (5 votes)
  • 4%
    1
    (22 votes)
  • 54%
    2
    (254 votes)
  • 40%
    3 (do the sweeping)
    (188 votes)
469 votes total Vote Now