The first week of the 2014 season is in the books, everybody. Please take this opportunity to take a big, deep breath and exhale. Now that we are all calm, let’s review this past week and then preview the upcoming week’s schedule.
The Orioles are 2-4, winning their home opener against the Boston Red Sox, followed by a four-game losing streak with two losses to both the Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers, and finally a win against Detroit ace, Justin Verlander.
The storylines so far have been the underperforming pitching staff and a sputtering offense. During the losing streak, the Orioles’ starting rotation really struggled. Ubaldo Jimenez (6 IP, 4 ER), Wei-Yin Chen (5.2 IP, 4 ER), Miguel Gonzalez (3.1 IP, 7 ER), and Bud Norris (5 IP, 5 ER) all started the season 0-1.
While some fans have merely brushed those struggles off, citing that it is only the first week of the season, other fans have not been as easy going. I see both sides of this. I understand that it is early and things can turn around quickly, but I also believed that the Orioles’ starters would be their weakness prior to start of the season, and those starts only reinforced that thinking. Cold, wet weather may have played a role in Gonzalez’s start, and it is reasonable to think that the rain delay in Detroit may have opened the floodgates in that particular game, but the other starters really don’t have much of an excuse aside from pitching against two of the best offensive teams in baseball.
One bright spot for the Orioles was Chris Tillman’s (1-0) performances against both Boston on opening day and Detroit on Sunday. Tillman’s first start was good, not great. In 5 IP, he gave up just 1 ER. Many would have liked to see him pitch efficient enough to go deeper, but he didn’t disappoint in his second start in Detroit. Against the Tigers, Tillman pitched 8.1 IP and gave up just 1 ER for his first win of the season. He clearly is Baltimore’s ace and it is nice to know that there is finally someone to stop the bleeding going forward.
Aside from the starters, we saw Tommy Hunter successfully save both opportunities. We now know that he is the Orioles’ closer, despite the lack of any official announcement by manager Buck Showalter. In three appearances (two save opportunities), Hunter has pitched 1.1 IP with no earned runs and one hit allowed. A very small sample size, but we know now who the closer is.
As for hitting, there really should be no concern over the lineup. The Orioles hitters have scored just 20 runs in their first six games while batting a very disappointing .229. Catcher Matt Wieters led the team with 7 hits including a double and a home run, however there are were no real notable standouts offensively. The core of the Orioles lineup will hit, without a doubt, but injuries have made for an interesting bottom half of the lineup in the first week.
Where Manny Machado’s absence was easy to foresee, J.J. Hardy‘s limited in playing time due to back spasms forced Jonathan Schoop, Ryan Flaherty and Steve Lombardozzi into the lineup all at once. How long the injury will persist is unknown, but it is clear that the lack of legitimate infield depth put the Orioles in a tough spot offensively in the first week.
The Orioles will look to find their groove this week against the Yankees in New York and the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards. In the Yankees series, it will be Jimenez (0-1, 6.00) v. Hiroki Kuroda (0-1, 3.00), Chen (0-1, 6.35) v. Nova (1-0, 3.18) and Gonzalez (0-1, 18.90) v. Tanaka (1-0, 2.57). Kuroda has had success against the Orioles, going 2-3 with just a 3.20 ERA in six games, while holding Orioles hitters to a .238 AVG, and will face Jimenez who has a 6.45 ERA in four starts against the Yankees for the first matchup between the two teams in the 2014 regular season.
One storyline to look forward to in the Yankees series is if the Orioles trail by three or less runs in the ninth inning. Orioles fans will no longer have to limit games against the Yankees to eight innings, now that legendary closer Mariano Rivera has retired. Though Nate Robertson is a formidable pitcher, he is no Rivera and that has to count for something.
The Orioles went 9-10 against the Yankees and 10-9 against the Blue Jays last season and will look to get back on track against two of their divisional foes. Their pitching will again have to face off against strong hitting teams, but it will be important to see some improvements as divisional matchups are always important, no matter the month,