The image of Wile E. Coyote running off the edge of a cliff in pursuit of the Roadrunner and floating in the air until he looks down is a familiar one from many of our childhoods. After losing three out of four games to the Blue Jays in their most recent series, the Orioles are in that position. It was the most important series of the year, probably the most important series in five years, and they blew it. The ground is no longer beneath them. Only the fall awaits.
For those who are experiencing the bargaining phase of grief about the 2022 O’s season, you can still sketch out some improbable scenarios to convince yourself that they can still pull something off. After all, the Orioles “only” need to go 17-8 over their final 25 games to reach the 89-win mark that now seems like it will settle the third wild card spot, and six games remain against the Blue Jays to pull back some of the deficit.
The path is still mathematically there. The Orioles need to find a decently long winning streak in a hurry. If you really want to believe in it, then sure, tonight could be the start of that winning streak. Take out the trash this weekend against the Red Sox, continue doing so for the short two-game series against the Nationals, and then they’re right back with the chance to gain ground on Toronto next week. Big assumptions are made in getting even that far, but it’s not an impossible scenario.
The recent performance of the offense is the barrier. It doesn’t matter much how well you’re pitching if you can’t score any runs. Wednesday’s most recent loss was a good example. Neither the just-activated Tyler Wells nor the generally-solid Dean Kremer were perfect, but they were collectively good enough to have the team in the game, except for the Orioles offense getting a total of only three hits.
Perhaps getting to face the Red Sox pitching staff will be part of the answer. Boston has allowed 5.73 runs per game in the second half of the season. We saw some of that when the Orioles dunked on these guys for 15 runs on August 19. Of course, the day after that, the O’s scored three runs and lost. Now they’re at the point where they pretty much need all of these games and then some.
The season is still a wild success for the Orioles, relative to any kind of preseason hope, regardless of what happens in these last 25 games or in this series. Snobby national baseball writers would have scoffed and called you a homer if you suggested the O’s might finish above-.500 this year, especially after the spring training injury to Adley Rutschman. It will certainly help focus on those positives if they stick it to Boston for three games here.
Game 1, Friday, September 9, 7:05, MASN
Starting pitchers: Brayan Bello (8 G/6 GS, 5.91 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 1.813 WHIP in 32 innings) vs. Austin Voth (17 G/13 GS, 2.71 ERA, 3.55 FIP, 1.175 WHIP in 63 innings as Oriole)
One would certainly hope that facing a pitcher with an ERA near 6 is part of a recipe for a breakout for the Orioles offense. It’s not that easy, of course. They weren’t great against 5+ ERA guy Jose Berríos in the recent Jays series. And Bello has been better in his last three starts (3.00 ERA) than he was in his first three (10.50 ERA against Rays/Jays). The Orioles have not yet seen this 23-year-old rookie in action.
Voth will also be facing his opponent for the first time this season. His 17 Orioles games have not overlapped with a Red Sox series. Every time I look at his stats, I wonder what in the world the Nationals were doing with him that he was reduced to being a 10+ ERA guy in their bullpen when inside of him was the potential to do... this. In the second half of the season, Voth has made eight starts, with a 2.29 ERA while holding batters to a .635 OPS against. That’s phenomenal. He’s turning the opposition into Rougned Odor.
One thing working against the excitement of the previous is that Voth is only averaging fewer than five innings per start in this time period. That’s because he threw only three innings coming out of the All-Star break, with his most recent outing being cut short at 3.1 innings. If he’s able to get back to his August trend of going at least five innings, that will certainly make him a more interesting future rotation candidate.
Game 2, Saturday, September 10, 5:05, MASN
Starting pitchers: Michael Wacha (18 GS, 2.58 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 1.030 WHIP in 101 innings), Orioles TBD
With the Orioles having an unlisted starter here, it seems like a chance to get Jordan Lyles back into the rotation after the stomach virus knocked him off his Monday start and hasn’t let him back in yet. Lyles has seen this Red Sox team three times this year, with one good start and two bad ones. Most recently, he allowed four runs in four innings of that wacky 15-10 contest from August 19.
Lyles will probably be spending September pitching to try to convince the Orioles to pick up his $11 million option for the 2023 season. I’d rather see the O’s roll that $11 million towards a better free agent starter who’s going to cost more money over more years, but I don’t expect to be consulted.
Also: What the heck? How does Wacha have a 10-1 record and a 2.58 ERA this season? Nice renaissance for him at age 31 after combining for a 5.11 ERA over the last three seasons. His only outing against the O’s this year was the day after the 15-10 game, when he pitched 5.2 shutout innings. It would sure be nice to see the Orioles do better than that.
Game 3, Sunday, September 11, 1:05, MASN
Starting pitchers: Rich “The Blister” Hill (21 GS, 4.71 ERA, 4.10 FIP, 1.341 WHIP in 97.2 innings), Kyle Bradish (18 GS, 5.30 ERA, 4.82 FIP, 1.511 WHIP in 90 innings)
Fans who like to listen to the games on terrestrial radio should note that in Baltimore, this game will only air on 101.5 FM, rather than the usual trio of WBAL stations. The first Ravens game, with a 1:00 kickoff, pre-empts the Orioles on 97.9 FM and 1090 AM. This is an improvement over the last preseason football game, when the Orioles were pre-empted on all three. It seems, according to the Orioles schedule, that this has been addressed for the handful of Sunday conflicts in September and October.
Bradish wasn’t exactly in Voth 10+ ERA territory, but he was pretty bad in his earliest outings this season and it’s been nice to see the rebound. It would be nice to see him continuing to head in the right direction here, though the Red Sox lineup is no easy task. This Boston team has been beset by problems this season, but they’ve got the fourth-best OPS in the AL overall and their second half offensive output has been nearly identical to their first half, so even trading some players away hasn’t slowed them down.
The trend for Bradish is this: Since returning from the injured list on July 29, he’s made eight starts. In this time, he’s averaged about 5.1 innings per start, with a 3.09 ERA and .669 OPS against. This included being the losing pitcher in that day after the slugfest game in August. Counting a complete disaster on May 27, Bradish has allowed 11 earned runs in 13.1 innings against the Red Sox this season. If he be second half Bradish rather than first half, that will improve, and hopefully the offense will be good enough for that improvement to result in a win.
This game will be the third time facing the O’s this year for Hill. He saw them once in April, pitching four shutout innings, and once in May, allowing six runs in four innings. Only three starts ago, Hill had his best game of the season, striking out eleven Rays batters in seven shutout innings. However, since then, he’s only gone four innings in each start and has combined to allow nine runs.
The optimists held the plurality in the poll of the last series, with 38% of you voting for the Orioles to take three out of four from the Blue Jays. 11% of voters correctly predicted one Orioles win in the series. Let’s see if this three-game set can go better for the optimists, or if Wile E. Coyote is going to wave bye-bye before starting toward his inevitable, gravity-mandated appointment with the hard ground.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Red Sox?
This poll is closed
0 (The Orioles are swept)
3 (The Orioles sweep)