Can the Orioles earn a sweep in Toronto?
First off let’s answer the rhetorical question that I posed in the title: YES. But the bigger question is WILL the Orioles earn a sweep in Toronto? I’m not a prophet so I really can’t tell you. But I will say that these are Birds of a different feather as opposed to the teams that would go up there in years past and get beaten around pretty well by the Blue Jays. For so long it was bad enough that the Orioles would get their derrieres handed to them when they’d play Boston and New York; however they would also end up dwarfing under the pressure of playing Toronto as well. Regardless of today’s outcome, the Blue Jays have definitely been put on notice that times they are a-changin’.
The O’s will send Brian Matusz out on the bump again for his second start of 2012. He was underwhelming in his previous start against New York, but that’s something that has to be put in the rear view mirror. However I suppose that the question is how much Matusz himself will figure into this afternoon’s decision (win or lose)? Through the first two games of the series, none of the four starting pitchers have won or lost the games. That has all been done by the bullpen, and it’s been the Oriole ‘pen which has ended up being the more durable of the two.
Matusz will be opposed this afternoon by Kyle Drabek, who’s 0-1 with a career 3.86 ERA against the Orioles. All of that aside, the past two games have been won by exactly what I said the Orioles were missing just a few days ago: clutch and timely hitting. Just this past week we saw Adam Jones come under some criticism for striking out with the bases loaded in the last of the ninth against NY. (It shouldn’t go unmentioned that Jones has started 2012 with a hit in every game to give him an eight-game hit streak.) In the past couple of years the O’s haven’t had the capabilities to have a guy reach down deep with the game on the line and pick up a clutch base lick or home run (as we saw yesterday with Nolan Reimold). If the first two games of this series are any indication, the O’s might just be starting to get those kinds of clutch hits.
Clutch hitting is not something that any team is going to be able to do 100% of the time. I remember back in 1996 when the O’s started out the season with a six-game homestand and won the first five games there of. In the sixth and final game (before the team headed out on the road) they trailed in the last of the 9th; Roberto Alomar struck out on a rising fastball with the bases loaded to end the game. Alomar was a pretty clutch hitter over the course of his career, however as I said nobody’s capable of it 100% of the time. However the trend that I’m seeing is that they’re becoming capable of it a lot more than they have been in the past few years. And to that regard when all else fails, a little bit of luck never hurts!
One slight downside to this afternoon’s ballgame is that the Oriole bullpen has had to throw at least three innings in both Friday and Saturday’s game. So if Matusz could possibly go seven innings today that would be beneficial to the Birds. The good news based on his last start is that Matusz didn’t seem to have any issues with his velocity, albeit his command was off on his fastball. (Quite honestly he did have good command with his curve ball as well as his off speed pitches.) Velocity is something that can be difficult to fix or to get back, but command is something that can be worked on. He needs to go after the likes of Jose Bautista as opposed to trying to nibble in the strike zone. Much like the Yankees and Red Sox, the Blue Jays aren’t afraid to take pitches so if Matusz isn’t throwing strikes he’ll be issuing a lot of walks. In the first two series’ of the year the Birds have been on both the positive and negative end of sweeps. Thus there’s been no in-between in the sense that the O’s haven’t had a series where someone’s taken two-of-three. I know that the Orioles and the Oriole fans are hoping that trend continues this afternoon.
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