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Orioles-Reds series preview: A showdown between the game’s best young stars

Elly De La Cruz makes his first trip to Baltimore as he and the white-hot Reds take on Adley Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Jordan Westburg and the O’s

Atlanta Braves v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

For many members of Birdland, an Orioles/Reds matchup will bring back memories of the 1970 World Series—a 4-1 Orioles win that saw Baltimore clinch its second championship. For a more recent generation, a Cincinnati vs. Baltimore matchup might tempt you to change the channel. Both teams have certainly spent plenty of time in the MLB cellar over the last seven years. The reality for both squads, as they set to face off in Camden Yards this week, is somewhere in between.

While neither team is seen as a likely World Series contender, both are enjoying their best seasons in a long time. The Reds currently sit atop the NL Central, in large part due to a recent 12-game win streak that started just after the promotion of Elly De La Cruz. Orioles fans have become very familiar with super prospects and no one embodies that title right now more than De La Cruz. Since his call up on June 6th, the switch-hitting infielder is hitting .359 with a 1.063 OPS and already hit for the first Cincinnati cycle in 34 years. To say De La Cruz is the best shortstop to don a Reds uniform since Hall of Famer Barry Larkin is a bit premature, but he has that level of talent.

Meanwhile, the Orioles are in the thick of the AL playoff and currently sit atop the AL Wild Card standings. While they are yet to hit for the cycle, the Orioles’ former super prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson have helped propel this O’s team to a spot among the five best teams in the MLB. While neither Rutschman or Henderson had the blazing hot start to their MLB careers that De La Cruz are enjoying, both have the game-changing ability that Reds fans are enjoying with their newest star.

This series also marks the first time since the start of interleague play that the Orioles and Reds play each other in back to back seasons. Last year the Orioles took the first game in Great American Ball Park, before dropping the next two and the series thanks to great pitching from Tyler Mahle and Nick Lodolo. Thanks to the scheduling changes implemented before the 2023 season, this matchup between some of the games burgeoning young superstars will be a yearly occurrence going forward, and Birdland will be treated to its first iteration.

Oh, and if the excitement around a match up between De La Cruz, Rutschman and Henderson wasn’t enough, news broke Sunday night that the Orioles are calling up infielder Jordan Westburg. He’s expected to be in the lineup for Game 1 to make his major league debut.

Game 1: Monday, June 26th. 7:05pm ET, MASN

Probable Pitchers: Cole Irvin (5 GS, 23.1 IP, 7.71 ERA, 1.76 WHIP) vs. Brandon Williamson (7 GS, 36.2 IP, 5.40 ERA, 1.39 ERA)

To say that Irvin has been the most disappointing member of the Orioles rotation is an understatement. Brought in to be another veteran presence among a young group of starters, Irvin struggled so much over his first three starts that the O’s sent him down to Norfolk, where he posted a 3.21 ERA over 42 innings. That success earned him a brief return to Baltimore, but he’s been a fixture back on the roster since June 10. In three appearances since his most recent promotion, Irvin has 4.35 ERA in 10.1 innings and opponents are hitting .296 against the lefty. While these numbers still aren’t great, they definitely represent an improvement over the efforts from early-season Irvin.

Part of Irvin’s turnaround has seen him rely less on his four-seamer and more on his sinker as his primary pitch. In his last start at Camden Yards on June 10th, relied largely on the trio of sinker, four-seamer and changeup to hold that Royals to one run over 5.1 innings. The O’s southpaw will need to rely more on his offspeed offerings and breaking balls against Cincinnati, as the top of the Reds’ order have all feasted on fastballs this season.

Opposing Irvin for Cincinnati is rookie left-hander Brandon Williamson. The former second-round pick out of TCU started off his MLB career with a strong 5.1 inning, one-run performance in Colorado. Since then, things have been a little more rocky for Williamson, as he’s allowed 3+ runs in each of his other three starts. Despite the lefty not posting the best numbers, he’s usually been a good luck charm for Cincinnati when he takes the mound. The Reds are 6-1 in the rookie’s starts this season.

Williamson’s main two offerings are his four-seam fastball and cutter, as he throws one of the two fastballs 58% of the time. He complements those heaters with a changeup and slider that he uses as his main strikeout pitches. This matchup should set up well for Rutschman in particular. Baltimore’s backstop is hitting .333 against lefties at Camden Yards, and has .304 and .294 averages against four-seamers and cutters this season.

Game 2: Tuesday, June 27th. 7:05pm ET, MASN

Probable pitchers: Tyler Wells (14 GS, 86.2 IP, 3.22 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) vs. Andrew Abbott (4 GS, 23.2 IP, 1.14 ERA, 0.97 WHIP)

The O’s will go from their least successful starter in Game 1 to their most successful starter in Game 2. Wells continues to lead all of baseball with a 0.88 WHIP and continues to be the leader of the Orioles pitching rotation. However, Baltimore’s ace is coming off a less than stellar start his last time out in Tampa. Wells took the loss as he allowed four runs (two earned) over five innings while giving up four hits and three walks. Against Tampa he continued a worrying trend of giving up home runs at a high rate. After giving up two homers to the Rays, Wells now has six starts this season where he’s given up multiple home runs.

The good news in this matchup is that the Reds are not a particularly great home run hitting team. Their 54 HRs against RHP this season ranks 22nd in MLB and their .403 slugging percentage against righties is only good for the 16th-best rate. Camden Yards is also a much more pitcher-friendly park when it comes to allowing HRs. Wells has been a huge beneficiary of Camden Yards’ pitcher-friendly nature, as he’s allowed seven HRs in 50 innings at home—while allowing 11 HRs in 36.2 innings on the road.

The Reds will turn to another rookie left-hander on Tuesday, sending Abbott to the mound for his fifth career start. The former second-round pick out of Virginia started his career 17.2 shutout innings. That streak came to an end in his most recent start, when he allowed three runs over six innings against the Rockies—though he did also strike out 10 batters. Abbott relies even more heavily on their fastball than Williamson, which sets up nicely for AL batting-average leader Austin Hays. The O’s outfielder is hitting .302 against lefties at Camden Yards and .433 against all fastballs this season.

Game 3: Wednesday, June 28th. 7:05pm ET, MASN

Probable pitchers: Kyle Gibson (16 GS, 92 IP, 4.30 ERA, 14 WHIP) vs. Luke Weaver (12 GS, 60.1 IP, 6.86 ERA, 1.59 WHIP)

The series finale should be the game most decidedly in the Orioles favor, based on the pitching matchup alone. Weaver’s first season in Cincinnati has been a disaster for the former Cardinal and Diamondback. His 6.86 ERA is a career worst and it’s accompanied by a career-worst .571 slugging percentage against. Weaver’s fastball currently ranks as the 10th-worst heater in all of MLB, based on Run Value. His changeup and cutter—his primary secondary offerings—haven’t been much as opponents are hitting .286 and .378 against them, respectively. The only pitch Weaver has found success with this season is his curveball, but he only throws his breaking ball 13.4% of the time.

Gibson is coming off his worst start of the season last Friday against the Mariners. The veteran right-hander got shelled for seven hits and five runs as the O’s went on to suffer their worst loss of the season. Before that unfortunate blowup, Gibson had a 3.53 ERA at Camden Yards and generally enjoyed the pitcher-friendly nature of his new home park. Wednesday will be a test to see if he can rediscover that form against a Reds team that is generally a better hitting team than the Mariners.

Gibson has often survived this season by giving up hard contact but having the ball hit on the ground, allowing his fielders to back him up. In Friday’s loss to Seattle, he struggled to induce the ground balls he’s used to, inducing only two groundouts and seeing a couple other balls hit on the ground sneak through for hits. This Cincinnati team will once again test Gibson’s resolve and ability to execute his game plan. The Reds currently have the second lowest ground ball rate in all of the majors, though they also only rank 22nd in hard hit rate.


A side note for this series: Gunnar Henderson turns 22 on Thursday, June 29th—meaning this will be his last series as a 21-year-old. In 101 games as a 21-year-old, Henderson put up a .249 average with .453 slugging percentage, 15 HRs and 45 RBIs. Given how Gunnar has hit over the past month, it feels safe to say he’ll be even better at once he turns 22. Will he be good enough to lead the O’s to another series win, though? That we’ll have to watch and see.


How many games will the Orioles win in their series against the Reds?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    3 (Party like it’s 1970)
    (90 votes)
  • 63%
    (243 votes)
  • 12%
    (47 votes)
  • 1%
    0 (Reds take revenge)
    (4 votes)
384 votes total Vote Now