The Baltimore Orioles will be nationally televised tonight as they play the third game of their four-game series with Boston Red Sox on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball at 7 p.m. EST. The Orioles and Red Sox have split the first two games of the series, with the Orioles taking the first game 8-4 and the Sox taking the second 4-2.
Big Start for Jimenez
Tonight represents a great opportunity for Ubaldo Jimenez (0-3, 7.31) to right the ship and change the viewpoint of many fans who are beginning to question his acquisition. Jimenez has the second-worst WHIP in MLB, allowing more than two walks or hits per innings pitched, and has not gone more than six innings in any of his three starts for the Orioles.
Jimenez’s failure to locate and get ahead of hitters have caused him to lean more heavily on his fastball later in the count. This year, Jimenez’s fastball velocity has dropped nearly 2 mph. Hitters have been able to catch up to Jimenez’s fastball and Jimenez has put himself in situations where hitters can predict he will throw it.
To have success tonight, Jimenez must either throw his breaking ball more consistently for strikes, giving him another option when he gets down in the count, or throw strike one more often so he has the ability to use all of his pitches later.
AL East Starts Tight
As many predicted, the AL East has been the most hotly contested division in baseball throughout the first few weeks of the season. Every team in the AL East is within two games of each other. Most do not expect much more distance all the way until the season’s end.
The Orioles come into tonight’s game at 8-8, one full game behind the division leading 10-8 New York Yankees. Boston is in last place in the division at 8-10.
Every game against a division opponent is extremely important for the Orioles, especially because they will not only be competing with these teams for a possible division crown, but also for a potential Wild Card spot in the 2014 postseason.
Bullpen Remains the Key
Orioles starters have pitched the second fewest innings in the major leagues, putting pressure on the bullpen. Given Ubaldo Jimenez’s lack of control in his first few starts and tendency to run a high pitch count, it’s likely that Baltimore’s bullpen is called on again tonight to pitch three innings or more.
So far this season, Orioles relievers have answered the call, sporting a 3.00 ERA in 51 innings pitched. Zach Britton, Evan Meek, and Darren O’Day all have yet to give up a run this season. Tommy Hunter has converted four of five save opportunities and has shown the ability to get left-handers out, holding them to a .200 batting average.
For the Orioles to remain in contention, the bullpen needs to continue to be a strength of this team.