Series Preview: Orioles @ Pittsburgh, 5/20-5/21

#throwbackBaltimore’s ball club next travels to Pittsburgh to play hated rivals the Steelers two games in an interleague matchup with National League opponent the Pirates. You know what that means: pitchers swinging lumber! This is the best goodbad thing about baseball. Watching pitchers at the plate is usually a miserable experience because they barely work on it, but it’s so exciting when they actually do get a hit. And the NL team’s pitchers have just slightly more experience batting, which means that AL fans get to complain about the NL having an unfair advantage for these occasional interleague matchups and the World Series.1

Talk the upcoming series and once the games start, follow the game thread on the BSL Forums.

Francisco Liriano used to be talked about as a potential ace for the Pirates. That chatter hasn't surfaced this year.

Francisco Liriano used to be talked about as a potential ace for the Pirates. That chatter hasn’t surfaced this year.

On Tuesday, Miguel Gonzalez faces off against Francisco Liriano. After a miracle year for Liriano in 2013, he’s come back down to earth and is holding on to a 4.25 ERA and a 3.82 FIP, both of which match his career averages of 4.18 and 3.62, respectively. Liriano has historically had excellent stuff but struggled to command his pitches, making for a pitcher that strikes out a lot of batters and walks a lot of batters, all while throwing a ton of pitches. As such, he has the ability to toss a gem or an absolute stink-bomb every time he takes the mound. Liriano has a no-hitter under his belt, albeit one that featured an xFIP of 5.96 and rated as the worst no-no ever thrown. He walked six during those 9 innings.

The game against Liriano, a lefty, seems to have two possible endings to me. Either the Orioles refuse to bite on his great pitches that may not find the zone and cruises to a couple of runs early, or the lineup’s free-swinging ways doom it to a fast loss. Recently, Baltimore has shown restraint against other known command-challenged pitchers, so I’m optimistic about the team’s chances in this game. It’s one in which Nelson Cruz and Adam Jones should be able to pad their stats if their batting eyes make the trip to Pittsburgh. Indeed, Jones has three homers off of Liriano in 15 at-bats but a .267 average without any walks. I can’t say that’s surprising. Maybe this is the game that Liriano’s former Twins teammate JJ Hardy gets his first round-tripper of the season.

Chris TillmanIn the second game of this two-game series, Chris “Thrillman” “#StaffAce” Tillman is matched up against Wandy Rodriguez. I seem to remember Wandy being a hot trade piece many years ago, but the 2014 version of the pitcher is struggling. Between a stint on the DL and ineffectiveness, he’s only contributed 25 innings pitched this season and holds an ERA closer to 7 than to 6. Tillman, on the other hand, is coming off of his first complete game shutout. I’m always wary of pitchers who just recently put together an incredible game because they’re tiring and, unless it’s someone with a history of being nearly unhittable every night, there’s a regression concern. While I’m not yet pegging Tillman as that type of pitcher, I’m not terribly concerned with this start. Even a pedestrian outing from Tillman should be enough to keep the Orioles in this game.

When the Orioles were pushed into a true doubleheader thanks to what felt like 40 days and 40 nights of rain, Tillman went 4 and 2/3 innings while giving up 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks and striking out 8. That was in the midst of a stretch of sub-par performances from Tillman, which he appears to have broken out of. I think Orioles fans can expect a better outing this time around. I’m not counting it as another complete game shutout, but Tillman’s average start is definitely better than Wandy Rodriguez’s.

I just really wanted to include golf carts that look like each team's helmets from the 1971 World Series.

I just really wanted to include golf carts that look like each team’s helmets from the 1971 World Series.

The Pirates are currently underperforming based on their run differential, but they aren’t exactly a buzzsaw in 2014. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez leads the team with 8 home runs but is batting an awful .209. The homers and walks (his OBP is .313) are keeping him on the field, but that’s a horrific average. Their offense just hasn’t been there, and that was the story the last time these two teams played. I guess the same thing can be said so far about this Orioles squad, and both of these teams have scored 167 runs this season, though the Orioles have done so in one less game. The Orioles can’t look past this game – they can’t look past any of them – but it’s not hard to imagine another short sweep that gives the team a final record of 4-0 versus the Pirates this year.

1. Totally off topic: it’s usually inconsequential, but it makes no sense to play half of the games of the most important series of the year under different rules and expect teams from each league to be prepared and practiced for each set of rules. What the heck, MLB.

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About the author

Patrick Dougherty   

Orioles Analyst

Patrick is the co-founder of Observational Studies, a blog focused on the analysis and economics of professional sports. The native of Carroll County graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Loyola University Maryland. Patrick works at a regional economic development and marketing firm in Baltimore, and in his free time plays lacrosse.

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