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Orioles-Cubs series preview: Trey Mancini awaits the O’s at Wrigley

The former Orioles fan favorite and his new team haven’t quite gotten off the ground in 2023.

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago Cubs Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Baltimore Orioles don’t have a long history at Wrigley Field. They’ve played only eight games at the iconic ballpark in their history, going 4-4. But this marks their second straight year visiting Wrigleyville, and last year’s trip was memorable indeed. The Birds, in sweeping a two-game series July 12 and 13, extended their winning streak to 10 games and moved above .500 for the season, the first time since 2017 they’d held a winning record in July or later. It was the Orioles’ coming out party as a winning team, and they haven’t looked back since.

Now they get another look at a Cubs team that reloaded with a number of free agents in hopes of remaining competitive in the NL Central. This offseason’s haul included All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson — pried away from the Braves on a seven-year, $177 million contract — as well as former NL MVP Cody Bellinger, starter Jameson Taillon, and a name that Orioles fans know and love, Trey Mancini.

Mancini, the longtime O’s fan favorite and all-around awesome dude, is about 10 months removed from his emotional trade out of Baltimore, and he had a bit of a wait in free agency after struggling with Houston down the stretch. He didn’t land with the Cubs until late January, signing a two-year, $14 million deal. So far, Trey hasn’t recaptured his glory years with the Orioles. He’s OPS’ing a meager .647 and has just four homers in 55 games. I’ll be rooting for him to turn things around...but not, of course, until after this series is over.

The Cubs’ best hitters have been their outfielders, as a revitalized Bellinger, Seiya Suzuki, and Ian Happ hold the best OPS+ marks of their regulars, while 23-year-old Christopher Morel has exploded for 11 home runs in just 28 games for a cool .673 slugging percentage.

Chicago’s rotation has been boosted by veterans Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly, neither of whom will pitch in this series, but they’ve had their problems in their bullpen. The Cubs’ relief crew carries a 4.54 ERA, seventh-worst in the majors. No reliever has more than three saves, and the team as a whole has just nine, tied for the fewest in MLB with the Royals. The bullpen strikes out a lot of guys — 9.93 K/9, second-best in the National League — but walks a lot of guys, too, with a 4.16 BB/9 rate that’s second-worst. If Orioles hitters can put together some patient at-bats, they have a chance to do damage late in games.

The Cubs are on a mini-roll, coming off a three-game sweep of the Pirates, and have the only positive run differential (+4) in the NL Central. Still, they’re just 31-37 overall. This feels like a series that the Orioles, coming off a 5-1 homestand, should win. But baseball has a way of surprising us.

Game 1: Friday, 2:20 PM, MASN 2 (MLB Network for out-of-market viewers)

LHP Cole Irvin (1-2, 7.85) vs. RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-2, 3.09)

That’s right, a day game on a Friday. It’s a Wrigley Field tradition, which hopefully won’t discombobulate an O’s team that hasn’t played on a Friday afternoon since their home opener.

Hendricks, the grizzled veteran of the Cubs, is the only player remaining from the 2016 World Series champs. He’s made only four starts this year after returning from a right shoulder injury he suffered last July. He’s worked longer into the game with each successive outing, peaking with a spectacular eight shutout innings of one-hit ball against the Giants in his most recent start. The last time he faced the Orioles was way back in 2014, before most current O’s were even in the majors. The one Oriole who has faced him extensively is Adam Frazier, Hendricks’s longtime NL Central rival with the Pirates, who has torched the right-hander for a .448/.500/.724 line and two homers in 32 PAs.

Meanwhile, Irvin made his grand return from Triple-A exile last week and delivered a promising if not quite dominant performance against the Royals. He allowed some hard contact but limited K.C. to one run and, importantly, no walks, a step forward for a hurler who had walked eight in his first three starts with the Birds. Of the current Cubs, it’s Mancini who’s faced him the most, with four hits and a homer in 12 at-bats. One thing working against Irvin is that the Cubs hit significantly better against left-handed starters (.805 OPS) than against righties (.690).

Game 2: Saturday, 2:20 PM, MASN 2 (MLB Network for out-of-market viewers)

RHP Kyle Gibson (8-3, 3.90) vs. TBD

At this point we generally know what we’ll get from Kyle Gibson, and it’s more good than bad. He’ll work about six innings and give up two or three runs, maybe a bit better if he’s feeling frisky, and he’ll usually give the Orioles a chance to win. Even in his 11th season as a big leaguer, Gibson has never pitched at Wrigley Field, though he has faced the Cubs three times with unfortunate results. They’ve tagged him for 12 runs and 17 hits in 14.1 innings overall, and most recently in 2022, he gave up six runs in 4.1 innings. Cubs catcher Yan Gomes and shortstop Dansby Swanson have both crushed him. Gomes has a .406 average, two homers, and 1.098 OPS in 34 PAs against Gibson, and Swanson is an eye-popping 8-for-11.

The Cubs haven’t announced a starter for Saturday, but they’re hoping it will be lefty Justin Steele, who was having a breakout season — a 2.65 ERA and 1.059 WHIP in 12 starts — before landing on the IL with a forearm strain at the end of May. Steele isn’t a huge strikeout guy, but he simply doesn’t allow hard contact; he’s in the 95th percentile among pitchers for hard-hit percentage and 97th for average exit velocity. Steele faced the Orioles in last year’s Wrigley series and gave up four runs in six innings.

Game 3: Sunday, 1:05 PM, Peacock

RHP Dean Kremer (7-3, 4.74) vs. RHP Jameson Taillon (2-4, 6.70)

Taillon, coming off two solid years with the Yankees, is a guy I was interested in the Orioles signing this offseason. Based on his results so far, they made the right call to pass on him. He’s been torched for a 6.70 ERA in 11 starts, giving up baserunners out the wazoo with a 1.510 WHIP. Hitters are squaring him up well and doing a lot of damage, evidenced by his bottom-10 percentile ranking in both barrel percentage and expected slugging. It’s not exactly what the Cubs had in mind for the start of his four-year, $68 million contract. The Orioles faced Taillon six times in the last two years but never actually beat him; he went 1-0 with five no-decisions. He wasn’t great, though, posting a 4.18 ERA.

Kremer, other than one clunker in Milwaukee two starts ago, has pitched well since the start of May, with a 2.61 ERA in his other seven starts in that span. He never exactly looks dominant — he’s allowed six or more baserunners in each of those starts — but like Gibson, he’ll generally give you a chance to win. Just don’t look at his Baseball Savant page, where there’s a whole lot of blue (as in, bad) in a whole lot of categories. He’ll be facing the Cubs for the first time.


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

This poll is closed

  • 24%
    3 (Orioles sweep!)
    (77 votes)
  • 62%
    (198 votes)
  • 10%
    (34 votes)
  • 2%
    0 (Orioles get swept)
    (7 votes)
316 votes total Vote Now