This schedule, right? It just doesn’t get any easier. At least the Orioles got a few unexpected days off last week and are rostering two grown men named Matt Wieters and Nelson Cruz. Those guys are a treat to watch in 2014. Cruz looks like he’s trying to Roy Hobbs the heck out of the baseball with every swing – and holy cow, he connects sometimes. This slate of games pits the second place Orioles (15-14) against the third place Tampa Bay Rays (15-17), with the Orioles attempting to keep pace with the Yankees for the early AL East lead while the Rays look to overcome multiple injuries to starting pitchers and climb back over .500.
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Tuesday night’s matchup between the Orioles and the Rays features Chris “Thrillman” “#stafface” Tillman against Chris Archer. After a fast start to 2014, Tillman has struggled with command and pitch counts. He allowed three runs on six hits in his last start against the Pirates. The Rays’ starter, Chris Archer, lost command of his pitches in his most recent start against Boston after cruising through four innings.
Below is my guess at Tuesday’s lineup, along with how the Orioles have fared against Archer in his short career, along with predicted defensive positions for each player.
|Nick Markakis (L, 1B)||.111||.111||.111|
|Manny Machado (R, 3B)||.429||.429||.429|
|Nelson Cruz (R, RF)||.333||.333||.500|
|Adam Jones (R, CF)||.000||.100||.000|
|Matt Wieters (S, C)||.333||.333||.444|
|JJ Hardy (R, SS)||.400||.400||.600|
|Ryan Flaherty (L, DH)||.429||.429||.571|
|Jonathan Schoop (R, 2B)||-||-||-|
|David Lough (L, LF)||0/3||.000||.000|
Archer strikes out 7.1 batters per nine innings and has some difficulty staying in the zone when he needs to, so you know the Orioles are going to strike out a ton. Kidding aside, the righty will have an advantage over same-side batters like Adam Jones, who has 4 strikeouts in 10 plate appearances against Archer, and Manny Machado, but is giving up more hits this year than ever before. Maybe Matt Wieters can continue his hot streak and lace a few singles, and don’t count Nick Markakis out either. It’s a shame that Chris Davis is missing this matchup because a 2/3 night with a HR, BB, and K is calling his name.
If Chris Tillman can return to form in this game and the Orioles can be just patient enough against Archer, they should be able to take this game. My guess is that this game features two well-pitched starts and ends 2-1, or both pitchers get bounced in the middle innings and the score runs up to 7-5. Nothing in between.
According to MLB.com, Bud Norris has been “arguably the Orioles’ most consistent starter starter” in 2014. That sounds like high praise, but Norris has really only been consistently average. Outside of one start against Toronto when Norris went seven scoreless innings, he’s been a lock for 15 to 19 outs, at least 5 hits, and a handful of runs. It’s not terrible, and he’s certainly not pitching himself into the bullpen the way Miguel Gonzalez might be, but a bud Norris game is one in which the Orioles’ offense needs to put more than a couple runs on the board. Fortunately, the O’s bats are matched up with Cesar Ramos, a 30-year-old pitcher that started 2014 in the Rays’ bullpen and has been moved to a starting role due to injuries to the Rays’ key pitchers.
Ramos started the season very well, giving up just one earned run, one run, and one walk in an incredibly small sample size of four innings of work. Since being moved to a starter role, he hasn’t fared as well, giving up 6 runs in 16 2/3 innings across four starts. That works out to a 3.33 ERA that looks worse in the box score: Ramos has made it to the end of five innings just twice because of pitch counts and ineffectiveness. It’s not that he had high pitch counts, it’s that the Rays were stretching him out from the bullpen progressively. In Ramos’ most recent start against the Red Sox, it took him 95 pitches to make it through 4 2/3 innings. He walked and stuck out six, both career highs. Orioles, take note: this guy will throw a lot of pitches if you make him. Chasing him from the mound and getting to the Rays’ bullpen, which is shockingly ranked 25th in MLB in fWAR, would be a huge plus for this team.
Cesar Ramos is tough to call here because the Rays are still actively using him out of the bullpen. The Rays brought Ramos into the game for the fifth inning on May 3 versus the Yankees, so he’ll be pitching on just three days’ rest. I don’t want to read too much into it since it was his first start of the year, but Ramos started on three days’ rest against the Reds and was shelled for 4 runs on 3 hits and 3 walks in just 2 innings of work. Both of the previous appearance and his May 3 appearance against the Yankees were 1 inning of work, and he threw more pitches (17) against the Yankees than he did in his relief appearance before the Reds game (10).
Seriously, O’s. Patience is key in this game. Waiting for the right pitch and taking the free base could make this one an easy win.
In the final game of this three-game series, Ubaldo Jimenez will square off against David Price. This concerns me, since I am admittedly not totally bought in on Jimenez. I am, however, sure that David Price is among the best pitchers in baseball. Price is struggling this season, with a higher WHIP (1.171) than any year since 2010… when he was voted to the All Star Game and finished second in Cy Young voting. Despite a 4.44 ERA, Price is pitching to a 3.38 FIP, and the results are bound to return.
Price is not walking anyone this season, and he’s striking out over 10 batters per nine innings(!), so this could be a pretty quick game for the Orioles’ bats. I’m sure the team will attack early in the count and try to add to Price’s career high (for this point in the season) hit and home run totals. You know, make the defense work for an out instead of letting Price dictate the game. The Orioles’ not-so-secret offensive weapons in this game are none other than Matt Wieters and Nelson Cruz, who are slashing .368/.415/.605 in 41 career plate appearances and .360/.407/.760 in 27 career plate appearances against Price respectively. Also look for Delmon Young to make an appearance in this game, since he’s hitting .313 against Price. Don’t look for him to walk, though, since he’s never had one off of his former teammate.
Against Ubaldo Jimenez, everyone on the Rays save for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar seem to struggle. The Rays’ lineups’ slash lines are as follows, using Baseball-Reference’s 2014 Rays lineup by plate appearances:
|Ryan Hanigan, C||1/3||.333||.333|
|James Loney, 1B (L)||.184||.245||.347|
|Ben Zobrist, 2B (S)||.286||.444||.429|
|Yunel Escobar, SS||.368||.478||.426|
|Evan Longoria, 3B||.167||.286||.167|
|Matt Joyce, LF (L)||0/3||.250||.000|
|Desmond Jennings, CF||.143||.333||.286|
|Wil Myers, RF||-||-||-|
|David DeJesus, DH (L)||0/3||.000||.000|
If Jimenez turns in another start against the Rays like he did against Minnesota, this could be a terrific pitching duel. I’m hopeful because Minnesota ranks third in MLB in OBP and first in BB%, so they would have been the team I expected to see get a bunch of free passes out of Jimenez. If he is indeed turning the corner and becoming second-half-of-2013 Jimenez, we might be in for a treat. In another low scoring game, look for the Orioles offense to come from Wieters and Cruz, much like it has all season.
All three of these games are toss-ups, and I can argue that the Orioles will go 3-0 or 0-3. I think catching two pitchers that are currently struggling and one pitcher that the two hottest guys in baseball mash will work out in Baltimore’s favor. The timing of this Rays’ series probably couldn’t be any better for the O’s, so I’m calling it 2-1 in Baltimore’s favor.