Soon enough, the Orioles will finally get to play against a losing team. But they’ve got one more first-place club to face before the schedule softens up, as the AL West-leading Texas Rangers roll into Baltimore for three.
The Orioles last saw the Rangers from April 3-5, just the second series of the year for each club, and at that point it wasn’t yet apparent what powerhouses both teams would become. The O’s (33-17) and Rangers (31-18) enter this weekend’s series with the second- and third-best records in the majors.
A year ago, the Rangers were one of the most disappointing teams in baseball, scuffling to a brutal 68-94 record even after shelling out a combined $500 million to star middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. That 2022 club was sunk by lousy pitching, so the Rangers addressed that issue in a big way this past winter, giving a $185 million contract to longtime Mets ace Jacob deGrom and $34 million to veteran right-hander Nathan Eovaldi. Those two have revitalized the Rangers’ staff, with Eovaldi posting a 166 ERA+ and 0.966 WHIP, while deGrom had a 2.67 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 30.1 innings before the oft-injured righty got — you guessed it — injured.
The O’s won’t face either of that duo in this series, but the rest of the Rangers’ arms aren’t chopped liver, either. Every Texas pitcher who has made at least four starts currently boasts an above-average ERA+. Per FanGraphs, the Rangers’ rotation has the third-best WAR in baseball at 5.5. (The Orioles rank 25th, at 1.6.)
And yet, the pitchers are only the sideshow. What’s most fueled the Rangers’ hot start is their supercharged offense, which leads the majors in batting average (.270), is tied for first in runs (310), and ranks second to only the Rays in OPS (.790). The team’s run differential is a staggering +112, again second only to the Rays’ +114, and no other team is anywhere in that stratosphere (the Braves are third, at +58). The Rangers already have scored double-digit runs 12 times this year, and have scored 15 or more runs on four different occasions.
There’s barely a soft spot to be found in the Texas lineup. Of their 11 players with 70 or more plate appearances, all but one has an above-average OPS+. Semien and Nathaniel Lowe have been on-base machines, each with OBPs of .370 or better. The big boppers have been Adolis García (14 homers) and Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Jung (11 homers), whose last name is pronounced “Yung” but first name is not pronounced “Yosh.” And just last week, the Rangers welcomed back Seager, who had missed more than a month with a strained hamstring. He has a 1.009 OPS in 18 games.
The Rangers, led by future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy in his first season back from a three-year retirement, are a formidable foe. But we’ve seen the Orioles take down plenty of other formidable foes in recent weeks. Can the O’s take care of business at home?
Game 1: Friday, 7:05 PM, MASN 2
RHP Jon Gray (4-1, 3.02) vs. RHP Grayson Rodriguez (2-1, 6.21)
What’s the first pitching matchup, you ask? It’s Grayson vs. Gray, son.
Gray (four years, $56 million) was the Rangers’ third big expenditure along with Seager and Semien a couple years ago, but turned out to be just OK rather than ace-like. This season, he’s got a 3.02 ERA, although his 4.82 FIP indicates he might be getting a bit lucky. He’s walking more batters and striking out fewer than he did last year. He faced the O’s in his season debut April 3 and delivered a quality start, striking out seven, though the Birds ultimately won the game.
The Texas native Rodriguez is facing the team against whom he made his major league debut April 5 in front of his nervous wreck of a family. In what will be his 10th outing, Rodriguez has yet to throw a quality start, but he’s coming off a decent performance in Toronto in which a fifth-inning homer was his only blemish. So far in May, he has alternated horrible starts with decent ones, so if the pattern holds, this game could be a lot of trouble for him. He’s hoping that a recent mechanical change to stop him from tipping pitches could unlock his potential.
Game 2: Saturday, 4:05 PM, MASN 2
LHP Andrew Heaney (3-3, 4.13) vs. RHP Dean Kremer (5-1, 4.61)
Another of the Rangers’ offseason pitching additions, Heaney is back in the AL West, where he spent seven years with the Angels from 2015-2021. Heaney, like Gray, made his 2023 debut against the Orioles, and they wrecked him for seven runs in just 2.2 innings. In eight outings since, though, Heaney has impressed, posting a 2.98 ERA and tossing five quality starts in his last six games. Can the Orioles ruin his good vibes again? Almost nobody in the O’s lineup has more than six career PAs against Heaney, yet five of them have hit dingers off him, including Ryan Mountcastle, who has homered twice in four at-bats.
Kremer’s season, which started slow, is trending back in the right direction as some of his early bad luck has righted itself. He has a superb 1.96 ERA in four starts in May, even if a couple of those outings featured a lot of traffic on the basepaths. The last time Kremer faced the Rangers was Independence Day 2022, and it didn’t go well. He gave up five runs on eight hits and didn’t get out of the fifth.
Game 3: Sunday, 1:35 PM, MASN 2
RHP Dane Dunning (4-0, 1.67) vs. RHP Kyle Bradish (2-1, 4.34)
Dunning, a former first round pick of the Nationals who was traded twice before turning 26, spent two workmanlike seasons as a starter for Texas before beginning this year in the bullpen. He rejoined the rotation after deGrom’s injury and has excelled in four starts, going five or more innings and allowing two or fewer runs in each. He’s a pitch-to-contact guy, with just 26 strikeouts in 43 innings, but hasn’t allowed a single home run all season.
Bradish was on a nice little roll, with two consecutive quality starts, until the Blue Jays scuffed him up for 10 baserunners in his most recent outing. It was against these Rangers, of course, that Bradish was forced out of his first start April 3 when Jonah Heim scorched a line drive off his foot, sending him to the IL for two weeks. Bradish did make a full start against Texas last Aug. 3, holding them to one run in five innings.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Rangers?
This poll is closed
3 (Orioles sweep!)
0 (Orioles get swept)