Orioles Series Preview: Blue Jays Roll into Town with High Stakes
The Orioles are hosting the wild card leaders.
The Baltimore Orioles open a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays Monday night with much at stake. While the five-game losing streak came to an end Sunday, the Orioles have been playing well lately and have moved within striking distance of a playoff spot.
At 56-52, the Orioles sit two games back of the last wild card spot, which the Seattle Mariners currently hold. Coming off a four-game split with the Minnesota Twins, the Jays have a two-game lead on the first wild card spot with a 60-48 record.
Depending on what their competitors will do, the Orioles can vault into playoff position with a series victory or sweep, though that is unlikely. These two teams still have a whopping 15 games left against each other, far more than you would expect in August. It is safe to say the advance scouts will be busy with one team more than any other over the next two months.
Jordan Lyles will be pitching tonight coming off two of his better starts this season. On July 28 he pitched 5.2 scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays, then on August 2 he shut down the Texas Rangers with one run in 6.1 innings. Lyles’ last two starts have lowered his season ERA to 4.40 and improved his WAR to 0.6.
The Blue Jays are trotting out Yusei Kikuchi, who has disappointed in his first season north of the border. He showed flashes of brilliance with year-over-year improvements in his three seasons with the Mariners, but Kikuchi has regressed mightily this season. His ERA is up to 4.86 with a negative WAR total.
Lately Brandon Hyde has been stacking the deck with righties when they face a left hander, so watch out for that when he releases the lineup. Cedric Mullins, who is struggling same-handed unlike last year, might get a night off. Ryan Mountcastle broke his slump over the weekend and is now set to tee off.
Kyle Bradish gets the start for Baltimore coming off a very encouraging return from the IL. His season ERA is still an unsightly 6.55, but it is going down. He limited the Cincinnati Reds to two runs in five innings then held the Rangers to one run in five innings. His stuff is definitely playing better, especially his four seamer that got lit up before the injury.
The Orioles will have their hands full as ace Alek Manoah takes the bump. The All-Star has a 2.45 ERA while accumulating 3.5 WAR, and it is easy to see why. His sinker and slider both have mind-bending movement running in the opposite directions. The sinker can go from one side of the strike zone out of his hand and land in the other, routinely jamming hitters. The slider starts at the same point and buries in the dirt glove side, eliciting many silly swings.
The key for the Orioles will be to work the counts. If Manoah gets tired and leaves before the sixth, the O’s will have a lot of chances to feast on a shaky bullpen.
This game could go in any direction with a matchup of inconsistent pitchers. Dean Kremer will look to improve on his encouraging season and his 3.43 ERA. After a couple of clunkers, Kremer rebounded against the Pittsburgh Pirates with 6.1 scoreless innings. As long as his cutter plays well off of his four seamer, then then Kremer will be fine.
Jose Berrios will try to prove his worth for Toronto, as a big extension is not looking good so far. His 5.19 ERA is shockingly high after pitching to an ERA under four in five of the previous six years. Except for his walk rate and chase rate, his Baseball Savant page is a sea of blue. His pitch mix and average velocity are nearly the same as last year, but he is leaving way too many fastballs over the middle.
Orioles hitters will have to be selective against Berrios. He is still dotting his slurve and changeup, so laying off those will lead to more four seamers and sinkers in the zone.