If there’s any team that probably should be winning the way that the Orioles are winning this season, it’s got to be the Phillies. They were the team that represented the National League in the World Series last year and they’ve only added from there, including the $300 million signing of shortstop Trea Turner last offseason, and a less pricey but still notable $72 million contract given to starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. The pieces were there for this team to leap from where they were up to the next level.
For a variety of reasons, that’s not the way that their season has worked out. A number of the key batting contributors to last year’s Phillies team are below their performance from last season: catcher J.T. Realmuto, outfielder Kyle Schwarber, currently-mostly-DH Bryce Harper. Rhys Hoskins, who hit 30 homers last season, tore his ACL in spring training and hasn’t played. Turner is not hitting much.
Things are going better with the Phillies pitching staff, or at least its starting rotation. Longtime Phillies starter Aaron Nola, past free agent signing Zack Wheeler, recent signing Taijuan Walker, and recent out-of-nowhere starter Ranger Suárez, are all putting in above-average performance, if not Cy Young-contending performance.
Just about the only thing that’s gone wrong for this rotation is that 2021 first round pick Andrew Painter, who seemed to be close to the MLB picture, instead hasn’t pitched this year and has been recommended Tommy John surgery. Its last spot was going to Bailey Falter, who was demoted with an ERA over 5 and has been replaced by Cristopher Sánchez, who we’ll see in this series and who has an ERA barely above 3.
Put all of this together and the Phillies have a team that’s fine, and that’s about it. They are on pace to finish with 86 wins. They’re only outscoring their opponents by eight runs for the season, which means their expected win-loss record is barely above .500 at 50-49.
The 86-win pace they’re on right now is actually only one win fewer than what they got last year before riding the NL’s third wild card berth all the way to the World Series, so maybe fine is all that they need. At the moment, they stand within half a game of the third NL wild card spot for 2023, and WC1 is only one game ahead of them.
Not much has to change for them to make a big jump in the standings. The other NL WC contenders aren’t showing strength lately. The Diamondbacks, in a wild card spot right now, have lost eight of ten. So have the Marlins, who are tied with the Phillies at a half-game back.
The Phillies just have to keep consistently winning and they’ll get somewhere good. That’s what they’ve been doing so far in July, with a particularly potent offense that’s averaging more than five runs per game in the month. It is up to the Orioles to find a way to slow this roll a bit for the next few days.
Game 1, Monday, 6:40, MASN 2
Probable pitchers: Dean Kremer (20 GS, 108.2 IP, 4.80 ERA, 5.06 FIP) vs. Cristopher Sánchez (7 GS, 35.1 IP, 3.06 ERA, 3.94 FIP)
If you noticed Sánchez has only made seven starts and you were worried about the “Guy who hasn’t pitched many MLB games dominating the Orioles” alarm, don’t worry: This is Sánchez’s third big league season, though it is his first to stick around in the Phillies rotation. The 26-year-old lefty has made one major improvement since last year. He’s cut his walk rate from a 3.8 BB/9 to 1.5. That’s important for him, as he doesn’t overwhelm with strikeouts (7.5 K/9). He’ll mostly be hoping for some run support. Sánchez is 0-3.
What do YOU think about Kremer? He’s had some pretty good starts this season, including the seven inning effort with 10 strikeouts against the Yankees that kicked off July for him, and a six inning game with eight strikeouts right out of the All-Star break against the Marlins. But it’s not these games that tell the whole tale or even most of it in his season-long stats. That 4.80 ERA is disappointing, and marks him as the guy who might be displaced if the Orioles were to trade for a better starting pitcher at the deadline, as crazy as that idea sounds.
Kremer has been hit harder on the road than at home (.827 away OPS vs. .768 home) but he actually has a much better road ERA (4.04 road vs. 5.43 home). Road Dean’s ERA is what the Orioles could use.
Game 2, Tuesday, 6:40, MASN 2
Probable pitchers: Kyle Gibson (21 GS, 121 IP, 4.76 ERA, 3.86 FIP) vs. Taijuan Walker (20 GS, 107.1 IP, 4.11 ERA, 4.34 FIP)
This starting pitching matchup is of interest to me as it is between one of the pitchers I wanted the Orioles to sign this past offseason, and the seemingly lesser pitcher they did sign. That decision will not be vindicated (or not) based on the result of this game, but one outcome will certainly make O’s fans happier than the other.
Walker, though he has the superior ERA, is only averaging about 5.1 innings per game started. Gibson is not quite getting to 6 innings on average, but he is over 5.2 innings. How much is that extra out per game really worth? In the aggregate, a bit. Gibson was cruising pretty well in April and May, but since the start of June, half of his outings have been poor or worse.
Gibson was teammates with many of these guys last year, so maybe he knows how to pitch to them. Or maybe they know how to hit against him. With a FIP number that’s nearly a run below his ERA, he could be due for some positive regression. Walker, by the way, has a 2.76 ERA in nine home starts this season. It’s the road where he’s gotten wrecked. Are Orioles batters - particularly the lefties, against whom Walker is allowing a .793 OPS - going to be up to that challenge?
Game 3, Wednesday, 6:05, MASN
Probable pitchers: Kyle Bradish (18 GS, 97.1 IP, 3.05 ERA, 3.53 FIP) vs. Ranger Suárez (13 GS, 73 IP, 4.07 ERA, 3.85 FIP)
A couple of years ago, Suárez came almost out of nowhere to look like he might be one of the next elite pitchers in baseball. That 2021 season where he switched halfway through from the rotation to the bullpen saw him finish with a 1.36 ERA and 1.000 WHIP. That promise has not been fulfilled, as he’s fit more in the “fine” category than “elite” in the two seasons since. “Fine” would still improve the Orioles rotation, of course.
Across 13 starts this year, Suárez has only faced lefty batters 60 times. Teams are not stacking their lineups with those guys against him, maybe because he’s only allowing a .546 OPS against them. The switch hitters on the Orioles will be flipped around to the right side, and lefties Ryan O’Hearn and Adam Frazier probably won’t be seen in the starting lineup. It might be a day to give Gunnar Henderson the day off, too.
Bradish is on a roll of late. He hasn’t had a bad start since giving up three runs in just four innings on June 3 against the Giants. In a seven-start stretch beginning June 14 against the Jays, Bradish has posted a 1.62 ERA while holding batters to a .532 OPS against him. That stretch has come with some excellent batted ball luck (.221 BABIP) so we’ll see how long that can keep rolling.
The Orioles are only 4-3 in those seven starts because the team got shut out in two of them and scored only one run in another. Score some runs for Bradish, fellas.
In the poll for the just-concluded four-game set against the Rays, 57% of voters thought the two teams would split the series. There were 31% who dared to be so optimistic as to imagine the Orioles winning three of four, which is exactly what happened. How are you feeling about this one?
How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Phillies?
This poll is closed
0 (The Orioles are swept)
3 (The Orioles sweep)