The Orioles head up the pike and across the border tonight to open up a three-game series with their division rival Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. That’s right folks, forego your National Boh this weekend in favor of one of Molson’s blonde ales! That aside, Rogers Centre has been a house of horrors for the Birds for quite some time. The going against Toronto hasn’t been much better at Camden Yards for what that’s worth, as the last time the Orioles took the season series was 2004. They’re 49-79 since then, and 9-27 in the past two seasons.
Without getting overly caught up in the past, why is that? The O’s haven’t exactly had the greatest pitching in the world through those years for one. If that in and of itself is the reason, I think through the first week of the season it’s obvious that Oriole pitching is improved. However much of what we saw in the NY series with regard to clutch hitting (or lack thereof) has also plagued the Orioles in games against the Blue Jays. Tonight Toronto sends Brandon Morrow to the mound, who’s coming off of a seven-inning, one-hit (a two-run homer) performance last weekend in Cleveland.
The Birds will counter with Tommy Hunter, who’s of course coming off of a gem of a game last weekend at the yard, in which he left to a rousing standing ovation in the eighth inning. If Morrow and Hunter’s previous outings are any indication, this could be a 2-1 or 3-2 game when all’s said and done. Going back to clutch hitting for a moment, Toronto is a team that’s always been able to do that against the O’s. It’s never really mattered what the scenario or the score, however even in years when they themselves were really bad, the Blue Jays have always been able to get that key hit against Oriole pitching. (Many would argue the reason for that is that Toronto has a reputation for stealing signs; but my name isn’t Russell Martin so I’m not going there for the time being!) Therefore Oriole pitchers – namely Hunter for tonight – need to find a way to ensure that doesn’t happen…
…to that point, Toronto’s Jose Bautista has been struggling through the first week of the season. In their last game (Wednesday against Boston), Bautista went 0-for-4 at the plate, and Bautista and J.P. Arencibia are a combined 4-for-27 lifetime against Tommy Hunter. Those stats are promising from the Orioles perspective. However the thing is that’s the past and the past means relatively little with regard to tonight. Rogers Centre is thought of as a hitters’ ballpark, so hopefully the hot bats of Wieters, Hardy, Jones, and Markakis will be able to stay hot as the Orioles head up there.
The above-mentioned Jose Bautista is probably looking at this series as one where he’ll be able to “get well.” Tommy Hunter and the Orioles’ jobs are to ensure that doesn’t happen. A lot of people such as myself have been talking about clutch hitting and starting pitching, however we rarely mention the bullpen. In the American League east your bullpen is going to win or lose you a lot of games. If you look at the Orioles’ pen in the NY series you’re probably going to say from the outset that it gave up two of the three games. However I would submit that the ‘pen is in fact much stronger than it was in the past. The past couple of seasons we’d see almost total collapses in the bullpen whereby the Birds would be leading by three or four and the bullpen would surrender the lead. In the past two games, the bullpen has been much more solid, save for one bad pitch Tuesday by Pedro Strop and one bad pitch Wednesday by Kevin Gregg. Again, some people are going to argue that the ends justify the means, and a loss is still a loss. However my point is that we’ve gone from total collapses to one bad pitch…progress.
This is a key series for the O’s, and in my opinion a key game (tonight). The Birds had an extreme high in sweeping Minnesota on opening weekend, and now an extreme low in being swept by NY. So it’s important for them to ensure that they’re able to move on from that into this series. Setting the trend for the weekend with a win tonight would go a long way towards righting things. On a housekeeping note, keep in mind that tomorrow’s game in Toronto is a 4 PM late-afternoon start as opposed to the regular Saturday night affair. Sunday’s game is at 1 PM.
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