The Orioles are coming off of a 10-game whirlwind road trip that many people probably expected would bury them at the bottom of the AL East standings. Not only were the O’s atop the division for much of the trip, but they’re currently tied for third with Toronto who comes into Camden Yards tonight for three games. The past couple of seasons have brought hard times for the Orioles against Toronto, however they did take a series from the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre last September and again a week-and-a-half ago during the aforementioned road trip. Tonight they get the Jays in the friendly confines of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
If the current standings mean anything, this is a key early-season AL East series. I suspect that many people thought the Orioles would be relying on Tommy Hunter to be stopper of sorts tonight, meaning that the Orioles would be in one of their epic early-season losing streaks. That’s most certainly not the case, as the longest losing streak the Orioles have had this year has been three games. Hunter struggled to locate his fastball in his last start in Chicago last week when he gave up eight runs. Toronto themselves beat Hunter around fairly well at Rogers Centre, however keep in mind that the series was noted for long homers as it was. In his lone start at the yard this year, Hunter pitched seven strong innings and didn’t give up a run.
Hunter will be opposed tonight by Henderson Alvarez, who gave up three runs to the O’s in the previous series at Rogers Centre. However he gave up six to Tampa last week, so if the O’s can get guys on base they can probably score some runs. One thing to watch is whether or not Buck Showalter plays left fielder Nolan Reimold tonight. Reimold was bothered by some neck stiffness and was held out of the final two games of the trip with neck spasms. Endy Chavez filled in at left field and batted lead off in those games, and I felt that the lineup didn’t have the same fluidity as it did with Reimold in there. This is Nolan Reimold’s shot at being the everyday left fielder for this team, and it would really be a shame if he had to miss an elongated period of time due to an injury.
The crowing about the defense (or lack thereof) seemed to be quelled after Sunday’s win in Anaheim, however questions appear to be growing on a daily basis about Mark Reynolds’ ability to guard the hot corner. In the ten-game road trip, the Orioles committed 15 errors; many of them at third base. Wilson Betemit played third without an error on Sunday while Reynolds handled the DH duties. Would manager Buck Showalter consider a change? At this point I suspect that the answer is no, however the Orioles did sign utility infielder Bill Hall yesterday to a minor league deal. My prediction is that Reynolds is starting at third tonight, and that he’s still the everyday third baseman…for the time being. (In fairness he started slow last year as well.) The Orioles are undefeated this year in games where they commit no errors; that speaks volumes to the importance of good defense. Besides Betemit, I would also question the absence of utility man Ryan Flaherty from many games this year. Why not give the kid a shot one of these days as opposed for occasionally inserting him into the lineup on a Sunday?
Tommy Hunter will once again face the likes of Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie this evening. Bautista is the main Toronto threat, and the Orioles held him at bay for the most part last time around. Lawrie as you might remember attempted to steal home plate with two outs and the bases loaded against Hunter, who threw him out with an assist from Matt Wieters. Toronto’s a team that always has a trick up their sleeves, yet Buck Showalter can be pretty sly at times as well. The Orioles won two games against the Jays previously by getting to the bullpen. Perhaps they can grab the bull by the horns and win one tonight in similar fashion.
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Update (3:30 PM): I stand corrected; Mark Reynolds will start tonight’s game on the bench, with Ryan Flaherty getting a start at third base. Wilson Betemit will act as the DH. Nolan Reimold continues to be bothered by a neck strain, and Endy Chavez will lead off and play left field.