Series preview: Orioles vs Yankees in a battle for first place



It’s only April 12th and we’re only nine games into the 2011 season, but this three-game series against the Yankees feels very important for the Orioles – at least from the fans’ perspective. For one thing, this little mid-week series is for first place in the division. THAT’s pretty cool.  For another thing, manager Buck Showalter has made it pretty clear that the Orioles are not going to be intimidated by the likes of the Yankees and the Red Sox. This is his first test to see if his team can stand-up with the big boys of the East and the fans are still on the fence to see if the O’s are serious about having a winning season.

Unfortunately Buck and the O’s are coming in with quite a few issues that they would rather not be facing. Chris Tillman starts tonight, but his last outing was nothing to write home about. He lasted only 4 2/3 and had a lot of trouble in the first inning against the Tigers. Thursday’s starter, Jake Arrieta, did even worse in his last start, giving up eight earned runs in 3 1/3 against the Rangers. For Wednesday, the Orioles are still undecided. They will either go with Chris Jakubauskas (who is sporting a 15.00 ERA) or will call up Brad Bergensen and see if he can get out of his funk against the hard-hitting Yankees.

Hopefully the starters will rise to the occasion and perform better than they have recently. If they don’t, the bullpen is doing a pretty good job so far, particularly Jason Berken and closers Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara. But these are the short-inning guys, so the starters will have to get through at least six innings.

In this series, the O’s hitters are going to have to hit, because the Yankees WILL. The Orioles are lucky to be missing CC Sebathia in this series. They need to take advantage of facing the lower-tier Yankee starters, and get runs on the board early, to take the pressure off the young staff. This is a chance for the Orioles to raise their paltry .216 team batting average (28th in the majors). It’s time for the Orioles to show that they aren’t going to be the punching bags for the AL big boys in 2011.

Pitching Matchups

Tuesday:  Chris Tillman (0-0, 3.38 ERA)  vs A.J. Burnett (2-0, 4.09 ERA)

Weds:  Chris Jakubauskas or Brad Bergensen vs. Phil Hughs (0-1, 16.50 ERA) Hughs is 4-2 with a 5.04 ERA in 11 games (eight starts) against Baltimore.

Thursday: Jake Arrieta (1-1, 8.68 ERA) vs. Ivan Nova  (1-0, 6.10 ERA). Both pitchers are coming off of rough starts and hoping to get back on track.

Who’s Hot:  Orioles

We all know about starting pitcher Zach Britton and his 2-0 start and 0.66 ERA. But unfortunately, he won’t be pitching in this series.  With the three starters who are working this series coming off short-inning, bad outings, the Orioles may have to rely on their bullpen. Luckily that includes Jason Berken, who has struck out seven in four innings of shutout ball. Also in the pen, Kevin Gregg and Koji Uehara have yet to give up any runs.

If any games turn into a slug-fest, the Orioles will be looking to their new slugger Vlad Guerrero. Guerrero had 4 hits in 12 at-bats in the Texas series and has raised his average to .270, after being below .200 for the first week of the season.

Who’s Hot:  Yankees

Russel Martin. He has a hit in every game but three this season and has caught every inning so far. Martin has three homers, eight RBI and two stolen bases on the year. I know it’s early but this kid can play.

Who’s Cold: Orioles

The top of the lineup. Nick Markakis DID have a leadoff homerun in Saturday’s game 1 win against the Ranger, but he is batting only .250 and has just 2 hits in his last 18 at-bats. Brian Roberts is doing even worse. After a hot start in Tampa, B-Rob has gone stone cold at the plate.  He is batting just .189 in this early season and .211 on-base percentage – awful for a leadoff hitter.

Who’s Cold: Yankees

Jorge Posada. He is 0-for-17 with eight strikeouts and no walks since his last home run on April 4.

Mark Teixeira. He is 0-for-18 with seven strikeouts since his last home run on April 5.

Injured Orioles

Shortstop J.J. Hardy is going on the 15-day DL with a strained oblique muscle. Backup infielders Cesar Iztarus and Robert Andino will fill in. Hardy was starting to come around offensively, so losing his bat will hurt the Orioles. Defensively, there shouldn’t be a huge drop-off.

Starting pitcher Brian Matusz is still on the DL with a strained left intercostal muscle. And Justin Duchscherer is still out with a lower-back injury.

Injured Yankees

LHP Pedro Feliciano. 15-day DL – strained rotator cuff. Due back late April

C Francisco Cervelli. 15-day DL – broken foot. Due back early May

3B Alex Rodriguez. Day-to-day – flu. Probable

2B Reegie Corona. 60-day DL – fractured elbow. Due back late May

OF Colin Curtis. 60-day DL – dislocated shoulder. Due back in May

LHP Damaso Marte. 60-day DL – shoulder surgery. Due back sometime around All-Star break

Thanks to Andrew for the collaboration. Check out his blog Yanks Go Yard