There's more interleague action on tap for the Mets, as the Orioles roll into Citi Field for three games starting tonight and that means it's time for another edition of Amazin' Avenue's Five For Five series preview. The O's, not unlike the Mets, came into 2012 with meager expectations but have managed to outplay the early season projections. They currently sit in second place in the ferocious AL East and with a record of 39-27, they find themselves just a game and a half behind the first place Yankees. To get a better feel for how the O's have looked so far, I spoke with Stacey, manager of SB Nation's Orioles blog Camden Chat:
Amazin' Avenue: Who or what has been the biggest success so far this season and conversely, the biggest disappointment? Biggest surprises?
Camden Chat: It's hard to pick just one success on a team that wasn't expected to compete but who now sits 1.5 games out of first place with a record of 39-27, but one thing that has been a very pleasant surprise is the bullpen. In years past the Orioles tended to sign relief pitchers to multi-year contracts only to have it blow up in their face (Kevin Gregg, Mike Gonzalez, etc.). This year Dan Duquette stock piled a boatload of cheap free agents both in the major and minor leagues to surround bullpen stalwart Jim Johnson. It has worked magnificently, to the tune of a 2.38 ERA, best in the majors.
The biggest disappointment for me this season has the injuries in the outfield. Other than Adam Jones, who is having a career year in center field, the outfield is currently in a bit of a shambles. Nick Markakis was off to a pretty good season before he broke his hamate bone and was put on the disabled list. And left fielder Nolan Reimold was on fire in April but has been on the DL with a bulging disc and possible nerve issue and has no timetable on return. To top that off, back up outfielder Endy Chavez just went on the DL as well, leaving the team with only Jones on the roster as a true outfielder. They are currently rotating Steve Pearce, Ryan Flaherty, and Chris Davis through the outfield, all of whom are infielders. The biggest surprise is that even with the injuries, even with the rotation struggling from time to time, and even with Wilson Betemit playing third base full time, the Baltimore Orioles are playing well.
AA: The Orioles had relatively low expectations coming into this season but thanks to a hot start, find themselves well over .500 midway through June. What are your expectations for this team over the rest of the season, as well as the next few years? Has this start changed preseason expectations?
CC: It turns out this team is better than I thought it was. I still don't think they're good enough to be a contender, but maybe it won't be as bad moving forward as I had expected. For the rest of this season I expect their play might fall off a bit, but I expect they'll break their 14-year sub .500 streak at the very least. Over the next few years, it's really too hard to tell at this point. They have some solid regulars with Jones, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis. But GM Dan Duquette has less than a year on the job and there's no telling what he will do or not do to build this team.
AA: Adam Jones has gone from solid regular to star this season with the further development of his power. What have you seen from him so far and do you think the power surge is for real?
CC: Jones' improvement is real, but the power he's shown so far is probably not sustainable. He's on pace to his over 40 home runs, for crying out loud. But he has improved enough to be a 30 HR threat, which is fantastic for someone who also plays decent defense in center field. Additionally, his increased plate discipline has led to his highest OBP in his career, which to me is more impressive than the power.
AA: Mets fans likely remember righty Jason Hammel from his time with the Rockies where he pitched like a back end of the rotation-type starter but the righty has blossomed in Baltimore and the American League East, no less. What have you seen from Hammel so far? This improvement seems sort of improbable.
CC: People who know more about pitching than I do say that Jason Hammel's improvement is real. I find it as shocking as anyone as I was expecting what you describe: mid to back end of the rotation starter. Instead he's been like an ace. The difference seems to be an increased use of his sinking, two-seam fastball. He's gone from throwing it about 13% of the time to about a third of the time in 2012 and has resulted in an increase in ground balls and a higher swinging strike rate. And on top of that he certainly doesn't look fluky, he looks nasty.
AA: Give us a scouting report of the starting pitchers that the Orioles' will throw this weekend.
CC: Jake Arrieta -- 2012 has been a disappointing season for Arrieta, although the advanced stats suggest he'll improve. His walk rate is down and his strike out rate is up, but he's just been knocked all over the place. He keeps up the intrigue by throwing in a gem here and there such as his eight innings of shutout baseball against the Yankees earlier this year and his nine strikeout performance against the Pirates last week, but you truly never know what you'll get with him when he takes the mound.
Tommy Hunter -- Going into this season, the best thing you could say about Hunter is that he often sticks in the game long enough to eat some innings so that the bullpen doesn't get worn down and the offense has time to get into the game. He's done that a bit this year, averaging just under six innings per start, but he hasn't been very good at all. He's been sent down to AAA twice this season, but he always finds his way back. The best we can hope for when Hunter takes the mound is that he doesn't give up too many home runs and that he'll hold the other team to five runs or less.
Brian Matusz -- After Matusz's horrendous 2011, many had written him off as ever being a viable starter in the majors, but he's actually proven himself quite useful this season. He's had a few clunkers, but he's shown himself capable of putting together a solid start and there is real hope that he'll again be the valuable pitcher we all imagined when he was drafted and in the minor leagues. His last two starts haven't been great, but before those he'd put together a string of good games.
Thanks again to Stacey of Camden Chat for joining with us for this series preview! The Mets and Orioles open up their three game interleague series at Citi Field tonight at 7:10 PM with R.A. Dickey on the hill up against Jake Arrieta. Game two on Tuesday evening features Johan Santana facing off against Tommy Hunter. And finally, Wednesday evening's matchup will pit Dillon Gee against Brian Matusz.