The Orioles have been running through a stretch of mostly contenders, or at least teams who started off the season believing they would be contenders, ever since the All-Star break. That stretch is finally easing up a little bit, starting with this series in Oakland. The O’s soon play the Athletics, Rockies, and White Sox. If they are going to stay where they are atop the AL East, they need to make the most of this opportunity.
At one time this season, the Athletics were 12-46, on pace to win just 34 games over the 162 game schedule. Things were looking mighty grim. And I don’t mean Justin Grimm. He was on last year’s Athletics, not this year’s team. They were also grim from the whole “their loser owner is abandoning their city,” which is not a topic we need to dwell on too much.
As we know ourselves from 2018, 2019, and 2021, it is not very much fun when people are talking about your favorite baseball team in the same sentence as the 1962 Mets or the 2003 Tigers. For a while there, the Athletics deserved no better. Now, they’re on pace for a merely terrible 46 wins. They have the worst ERA among all AL teams at 5.75, and the worst OPS among all AL teams at .665.
What needs to be done by the Orioles over these next few days is obvious. If you are a team that wants to win your division, you better take care of business heading towards the stretch against the worst team in the league. The offense needs to get beyond whatever has led them to score just 17 runs through the first six games of this road trip. That is the biggest thing. Even against the A’s, it’s going to take some work, because the cavernous Coliseum is not always beneficial to offense.
Since the All-Star break, these two teams have a similar offensive output in terms of team OPS. Oakland is at .709 since then, actually ahead of the Orioles at .706. I was surprised and disappointed when I looked this up. Part of it is that the A’s have played better, sort of, since the break, but another part is that the Orioles have played worse. That’s not a fun realization.
One factor in the road trip is that the Orioles have been facing decent or better starting pitchers in all six of these games. That’s not going to continue into this series, although as of this writing there are no Oakland starting pitchers announced, so exactly which guys the O’s will face is not clear.
The best A’s starting pitcher is Paul Blackburn, who pitched on Wednesday, so I wouldn’t expect to see him pitch in this series. The next best is JP Sears, who’s gotten roughly similar results to Dean Kremer.
Game 1, Friday, 9:40 ET, MASN 2
Probable pitchers: Kyle Gibson (25 GS, 145.1 IP, 4.89 ERA, 3.97 FIP) vs. ?
The last time he pitched, Gibson was blasted apart by the Mariners, who hung nine runs on him in 5.1 innings. To be quite fair to Gibson, if the Orioles had made different roster decisions, they would have given him an earlier hook and spared him some of that damage. He was a good teammate by taking a hit to his career ERA.
The situation with the bullpen has not changed, in that it’s still a six-man rotation and there’s still not really a long man out there for the Orioles. Thursday’s day off will help with resting the players, but if Gibson scuffles against a much worse Athletics lineup, there won’t be any help.
Of course, if Gibson can’t even get it done against relatively inexperienced and relatively poor players like what’s making up the Oakland lineup right now, what good is he for the team going down the stretch? Not much. Hopefully he can have a bounce-back. Four of his six starts since the All-Star break have been in the range of acceptable to pretty good. The two bad ones were just really bad.
Game 2, Saturday, 9:07 ET, MASN 2
Probable pitchers: Cole Irvin (17 G / 9 GS, 53 IP, 4.92 ERA, 4.04 FIP) vs. ?
Irvin was an Oakland Athletic only last year, which is not to say that he was teammates with most of this roster. There’s been a lot of turnover. That’s been the Oakland way as they’ve sunk into oblivion, and the team’s owner is turning over the franchise to Las Vegas soon anyway.
As he faces his former team, it is a convenient time to point out the obvious, that Irvin has not lived up to any kind of hopes that you might have had for him when the Orioles acquired him. I have to assume that Mike Elias is disappointed with how this worked out, because it’s hard to imagine this was the expected outcome. Irvin was supposed to be kind of like a left-handed Gibson in the inning-eating-but-not-spectacular department. He’s had the not spectacular part down. Inning eating, not so much.
Irvin has been on a better trajectory recently. His last three relief outings before he was put back in the rotation had no earned runs against him, and he tossed five scoreless against that same tough Mariners lineup in Saturday’s semi-miraculous ten-inning win. This is an opponent that ought to get or keep everybody on a better trajectory.
Game 3, Sunday, 4:07 ET, MASN
Probable pitchers: Kyle Bradish (22 GS, 121.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 3.66 FIP) vs. ?
In the second half of the 2022 season, Bradish posted a 3.28 ERA across 13 starts. This was a night and day kind of difference from his 7.38 ERA in the first half of last year. You had to wonder which one was closer to the real Bradish? It’s looking a lot like the second half one was the real one, because he’s followed that up with similar performance over the 2023 season to date.
It is encouraging for the Orioles, and for us fans, because once Grayson Rodriguez took it on the chin in his first big league action, there was no sure-thing top of the rotation potential on the team. The liner off of Bradish’s foot in his first start kept us from even seeing him for the first few weeks.
Only at the end of May did it start to seem like something interesting was happening. Bradish has really improved since the start of July. When starting day games this year, he has a 2.28 ERA across eight starts. If we see something like that in this finale, there will be a good chance that the last impression of this west coast trip is a positive one.
The Rays continue on out west this weekend as well. They’ll be playing the Angels. The Orioles can’t count on that team to do them any favors in the standings, so they darn well better take care of their own business and break out of this trip’s, and the second half’s, offensive slumps. Austin Hays (.518 second half OPS), we’re looking especially at you.
How many games will the Orioles win in this series against the Athletics?
This poll is closed
0 (Orioles are swept)
3 (The Orioles sweep)
For some more thoughts on this series and the journey for the Orioles from here, listen to today’s episode of my podcast: