Series Preview: Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays, April 22-24
Oh, look, another AL East matchup for the Baltimore Orioles. I read that the Orioles have played the second-hardest schedule so far this season, behind only the Jays. The only reason the Jays’ schedule has been more difficult is because they play the Orioles and not themselves. This matchup therefore represents something of an opportunity to take a breath for the O’s, but the previous series against the Blue Jays proved that it’s certainly not an easy matchup.
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In this midweek three-game set, the Orioles are scheduled to face R.A. Dickey, Dustin McGowan, and Drew Hutchinson. Here are some matchups to watch in the upcoming series:
Orioles Power Bats vs. Dickey
Knuckleballing right hander R.A. Dickey can be a lights-out pitcher when things are going his way. Like other knuckleballers throughout baseball history, things aren’t always going his way. The knuckleball can be very hittable when things aren’t working the way the pitcher hopes.
While Dickey might not be as bad as he’s looked so far this year (his 4.73 FIP is far below his 6.26 ERA and his 5.9 BB/9 is easily a career worst so far), he’s now a year and a few weeks removed from his Cy Young win and hasn’t looked invincible during his time in the AL East. A knuckleball with little movement is practically on a tee for Major League hitters, and the Orioles can take full advantage. Baltimore’s power hitters aren’t always the most patient, but if they can lay off the pitches that Dickey throws outside the zone, they might be able to make some hay in the first game of the series. After two solid offensive outings in Boston, hopefully guys like Chris Davis and Adam Jones are seeing the ball well and can push a couple of balls 100 meters deep in the outfield.
Edwin Encarnacion vs. Orioles Pitchers
While Jose Bautista has deservedly received national attention since his 54-dinger campaign in 2010, Edwin Encarnacion seems to fly under the radar for a lot of fans. Fantasy baseball managers and parrot enthusiasts already know all about Encarnacion’s power, but for those who don’t: Encarnacion has hit more than 35 home runs in each of the last two seasons, tallying 42 in 2012, has held an OBP of over .370 in each season, and is OPSing over .900 in 2012 and 2013. His numbers are down slightly in this season, but it’s still very early.
Two of three Orioles pitchers scheduled to go in this series, Gonzalez and Tillman, have struggled with the longball throughout their careers. Gonzalez is giving up more HR/9 in 2014 than in the previous two seasons (2.5 this year; 1.3 in 2013); Tillman’s GB/FB ratio has dipped to 0.85 in 2014 (career 0.91). Encarnacion is slugging .471 off of Gonzalez, .429 versus Tillman, and has only seen Norris, the Orioles’ third pitcher during this set, for three at bats. In a lineup full of great hitters, Encarnacion is one that the O’s pitcher must pay special attention to. He fueled the Jay’s 11-3 win over the O’s with three hits and a double. Encarnacion hasn’t caught fire yet this season, and the Orioles are certainly working to make sure that this isn’t the week for him to start.
29-year-old Melky Cabrera is having a great season, with numbers similar to his PED-tainted campaign with the San Francisco Giants in 2012. With an OBP of .353 and slugging .566, Cabrera has proven difficult to get out so far in 2014. He’s even putting some muscle behind swings, taking four out of the ballpark already this year. He’s not someone that the O’s need to pitch carefully, but he will be willing to take pitches and punch singles and doubles if the Baltimore pitchers make the smallest mistake.
Bud Norris has been much better than some people (okay, me) expected him to be this season. His FIP sits at 3.90, suggesting he’s had some tough luck taking his ERA to 4.42, and his BB/9 and WHIP are both below career averages so far in 2014. While he’s not striking out as many as normal (6.4 K/9 in 2014 compared to 8.5 K/9 career), Norris put together a great start together against Toronto a week ago. His other two starts have been uninspiring, so it’s hard to tell if his previous game against Toronto was an anomaly or if he matches up well against the Blue Jays’ lineup. Norris is performing better than his career average in GB/FB ratio so far this season, and it’ll be important for him to keep the Jays’ bats on the ground in this series.
I predicted that the first series between these two teams would, could, and should have been an Orioles sweep. That didn’t happen. Tillman suffered a tough-luck loss (8 IP, 3 H, 0 ER) to Dustin McGowan’s first win since 2008 that could have just as easily been a gem and a win for the O’s pitcher, and Jimenez had a rough start in an 11-3 rout. This series should go better, and the Orioles should beat McGowan and Hutchinson, pitchers that somehow gave this team fits a week ago. Taking two out of three on the road is always a positive, especially when the Orioles are just trying to stay alive in the difficult AL East while awaiting the return of Manny Machado.
All 7:07 matchups in this series because they’re on weird Canadian time (night games in the US are played at 7:05), but the team will get a few extra hours of rest since they’ll be playing at 11:00 AM on Monday. Hopefully that’s enough to rest whatever bullpen arms were worn out by Jimenez’s short start against Boston and Monday’s game.