I don't follow national baseball coverage as much as I'd like to, but I think the Orioles are one of the most overlooked teams this year. They're not the cute, lovable underdog that burst onto the competitive scene back in 2012, nor are they the powerhouse that won 96 games as well as a division title last year. Baltimore has some sexy stars in its lineup, but let's face it: Those guys aren't nearly as sexy as the players that fellow American League East contender Toronto acquired at the end of July.
General manager Dan Duquette had quite a modest trade deadline when compared to the Blue Jays. While Toronto was out trading for one of the biggest names on the market (as well as one that wasn't supposed to be), the Orioles boosted their already strong lineup with Milwaukee's Gerardo Parra. Perhaps as a result, Baltimore sits two games behind Toronto in the loss column (prior to Monday's action), but that gap could close soon now that the Blue Jays have been cooled off by the Yankees and the Mets are heading into Camden Yards after being humbled by Pittsburgh.
Let's not be too harsh on our Mets, though (we already have newspaper columnists for that). The series against the Pirates featured two extra-inning contests that could have gone either way, and Pittsburgh is a club that is currently contending for the National League pennant. Three straight losses — two of which were tied after nine innings — do not mean that the Mets can't win their division as currently constructed.
On the other hand, the bullpen could be improved if Terry Collins would just use his best pitchers in the most important spots. It's becoming increasingly apparent that Bobby Parnell is not the same pitcher that he was before his 2014 Tommy John surgery, but Collins doesn't treat him like that. That's why the right-hander was inserted into tie games on Friday and Sunday last weekend.
This is probably one of those situations where the manager's desire to be loyal to players and boost their confidence trumps what numbers or performance say, but Collins has got to treat Parnell like he's new to the staff. With Hansel Robles coming off his strongest outing of the season and Carlos Torres having an extremely durable arm, it's time to move Parnell down in the right-handed pecking order.
More like crab cakes and home runs, right?
That's especially important when you're facing a lineup as talented as Baltimore's. Both Chris Davis and Adam Jones are having nice seasons and have been red hot for the past week in particular. Leading into Monday night's game versus Oakland, Davis had multiple hits and at least one RBI in the first three games of that series. He's striking out 31 percent of the time this season and has a .311 BABIP, but Davis is still batting .261 thanks to a whopping 34 home runs that are good for second in the American League.
Jones has been pretty great in every month save for May this year. He's coming off of a pair of three-hit games over the weekend, with the latest featuring two home runs in an 18-2 thumping of the Athletics. Never much of a walks guy, Jones has managed to cut his strikeout rate by over four percent in 2015, which has led to a .325 OBP and just as much power (22 home runs) as we're used to seeing.
Be careful, though. If you focus on those two sluggers, you might forget about 23-year-old MVP candidate Manny Machado. Coming off of a 2014 campaign that was shortened by knee surgery, the phenom is walking more, striking out less, hitting for power, and playing excellent defense at third base. Machado could be worth more than seven WAR this season, but no one is going to give him MVP votes because stupid Buck Showalter bats him in the leadoff spot to maximize his plate appearances. Thanks, Buck!
This Baltimore lineup is pretty scary even before you factor in that Matt Wieters is getting healthier every day, Parra is continuing to hit well (.295/.348/.492 this month) outside of Milwaukee, and Jonathan Schoop is having a breakout year at second base. Collins has got to have to best pitchers on the mound in high-leverage situations during these two games, because a single bad pitch can blow up in your face.
New York's tag team has All-Star hair
That's right, the Mets will only be in Baltimore for two games this week, which is a shame because Camden Yards is one heck of a place to watch baseball. Or maybe it's a good thing because the Orioles are playing so well right now and the Mets need someone to beat up on.
|Mets Probable Starter
|Orioles Probable Starter
|August 18, 2015
|August 19, 2015
Either way, New York will face Kevin Gausman tonight and Ubaldo Jimenez tomorrow. Gausman, the 24-year-old former prospect, is back in the big leagues after making 20 starts there last year. This time around, he's striking out more batters but has a 4.48 ERA thanks to a 66-percent strand rate. Lately, he's been pitching pretty well save for an outing in Anaheim that saw him give up six runs in fewer than six innings.
Mets fans will hope to see Lucas Duda return to the lineup this evening, but it won't be so easy for him to take advantage of young Gausman. The right-hander has been stronger against lefties (3.02 FIP against) than righties (4.68) this year.
Jimenez has done a great job cutting his walk rate nearly in half after a disappointing 2014 campaign. Now that he's only walking around three batters per nine innings, he can be a productive member of pitching society again. The 31-year-old Dominican is also getting more ground balls than he ever has since leaving Colorado in 2011.
Fewer walks and more ground balls ought to make Jimenez a more consistent starter, but he's been all over the map lately. He had two straight disastrous outings in Detroit and the Bronx after the All-Star break, but Jimenez bounced back to shut out the Angels over eight innings two starts ago. The Mets ought to be patient with him the way Oakland was. In his Friday start, the Athletics saw 102 pitches from Jimenez while scoring four runs in five frames.
Despite the offensive improvements that the Mets have seen in August, the Orioles can still easily slug their way to a sweep if New York doesn't get terrific pitching from Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. deGrom was brilliant in his last start, but when he does run into trouble, it often has a lot to do with home runs. He's someone who should be extra careful when working against Davis.
Syndergaard has cooled off a bit after a stretch that made him look like the leader of the Avengers and not just that weird alien, Thor. Even after eight runs allowed in his last two games, though, Syndergaard has good enough stuff to dominate on any given night. If he manages to tame these birds, it will be a sight to behold.
Prediction: Banana split.
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