For the first time since May 2nd, the Baltimore Orioles are set to begin a series with a team who has a record below .500. In the 22 game stretch against some of the best teams in baseball, the Orioles went 13-9 and proved that they are a force to be reckon with as they won series against powerhouses such as the Rays and Yankees and swept the Blue Jays on the road.
Their next opponent, the Cleveland Guardians come in with a 23-29 record and sit 3.5 games out of first place in a horrid AL Central. Despite the slow start, the Guardians are not a team to overlook as they were one win away from the ALCS last October and are led by superstar players such as Shane Bieber, Emmanuel Clase, and Jose Ramirez. Bieber will get the start on Wednesday against an Orioles starter yet to be determined, which could certainly be a tough game for the O's to finish off the series. Let's look at each game individually and determine what Orioles fans should be on the lookout for.
Baltimore Orioles series preview vs the Cleveland Guardians
1. Game One- Monday at 1:05 PM. Logan Allen vs. Tyler Wells
Tyler Wells is coming off a tough start against the Yankees in which he gave up three home runs and five earned runs in five innings pitched. Despite the struggles, the O's offense picked up Wells with a 8-run seventh inning to win the game 9-6 and give Tyler a no-decision. A promising trend for Wells is that he has struck out 7+ batters in each of his last three starts as his 6-8 frame has overwhelmed opposing hitters at times.
Wells strikes out 8.5 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.9 and has the best WHIP amongst all qualified pitchers in Major League Baseball at 0.84. The issue for Tyler has been his struggle with the long ball as he gives up more than two homers per nine innings and has given up 13 total early in the season. This has led to a subpar FIP of 5.04 since the stat relies heavily on ability to keep the ball in the yard. Many stats suggest that Wells has been extremely lucky thus far with a .167 opposing BABIP despite a high flyball rate. It certainly helps to have a great outfield defense led by Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays and the largest left field in the sport behind you.
The good news for Wells is that he pitches tomorrow in front of the Great Wall of Baltimore and the Guardians are the worst power hitting team in the league. Through 51 games, the Guardians have hit only 30 home runs as the only other team with less than 40 is the Washington Nationals at 38. Josh Naylor and Jose Ramirez are the only players with more than three homers on the entire roster as Cleveland also has the worst slugging percentage and isolated power in all of baseball. Simply, this is a big bounce back opportunity for Wells as he should not have much issue keeping the ball in the yard. Jose Ramirez has hit a home run off of Wells previously, as has Andres Gimenez. Mike Zunino is also 2-for-4 with two bombs off of Wells in his career.
On the Cleveland side, this is the first opportunity for the Orioles against a young southpaw in Logan Allen. Allen made his MLB debut earlier this season and has pitched well to a 3.31 ERA and 126 ERA+ in 32.2 innings and six starts. In his seventh start, he faces a strong Orioles offense. Austin Hays had three hits against another young southpaw on Sunday and hopes to continue his hot streak on Monday. Similar to Wells, Allen strikes out plenty of batters while not walking many. Unlike Wells, he has given up only three homers on less than one per nine innings. A former top 100 prospect, Allen has had a strong start to his big league career after being drafted in the second round of the 2020 draft. The key to this game for the Orioles is a strong start out of Tyler Wells since the offense will likely struggle against Allen and an always strong Guardians bullpen.
2. Game Two- Tuesday at 7:05 PM. Cal Quantrill vs. Kyle Gibson
This is the one game of the series that seems to favor the Orioles on the pitching matchup front. Gibson pitched seven shutout innings against the Yankees on Thursday with only two hits given up. Kyle has pitched well in his only season with the Orioles with a 3.82 ERA and 112 ERA+ in an MLB-best 11 starts. Opposite of Wells, Gibson rarely allows one of the three true outcomes with six strikeouts, 3 walks, and less than a homer per nine innings.
The walk number is a bit higher than the O's would like but they have gotten as much as they could have expected in the veteran this season on a one-year deal. Gibson pitched a large portion of his career for the Twins, so he has plenty of experience against Cleveland. The one holdover from the Guardians from when Gibson was in the AL Central is Jose Ramirez. Ramirez is 12-for-33 in his career against Gibson with one home run. Myles Straw and Mike Zunino also have plenty of experience against Gibson but neither have had much success.
For Cleveland, Cal Quantrill is coming off a rough start giving up six earned runs in four innings against the White Sox. This season, Quantrill has a 4.75 ERA and 5.01 FIP in 55 innings pitched. Similar to Gibson, Cal does not allow any of the three true outcomes much as he has struck out only five batters per nine innings. This is Quantrill's fifth career start against the Orioles and first, since he pitched six innings with one run given up last August. He had one of his worst career starts against the Orioles in 2021 where he only recorded four outs before giving up seven runs in an eventual 18-5 win for the Orioles. Cedric Mullins hit a leadoff homer off Quantrill in that game as he has hit 2-for-7 in his career off the righty.
3. Game Three- 3:05 PM. Shane Bieber vs. TBD
This matchup seems to favor Cleveland as they throw their ace and one of the best starting pitchers over the past few years against an unknown starter for the O's. We likely won't know the starter until after the game Tuesday as Grayson Rodriguez got demoted after a rough start against the Rangers Friday. The main candidates for the start seem to be Cole Irvin, Austin Voth, and Spenser Watkins.
Irvin was acquired from the Athletics over the offseason but has struggled in limited action with the O's. However, he has pitched well for the Norfolk Tides since his demotion with a 3.25 ERA in 36 innings and 6 starts. He has also only walked four batters in that time which is especially promising since he struggled with giving up walks in his three starts early in the season. Irvin was acquired as a player who would not walk many batters and he has certainly proven that he has returned to form with exactly one walk per nine innings in Norfolk. Voth and Watkins have had past success in the O's rotation which keeps them in the running and Voth has had decent success out of the bullpen for the Orioles this season.
The former Cy Young winner and All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber hope to have a strong start against the O's. This season, Bieber has a 3.04 ERA in 11 starts with a 4.03 FIP and 136 ERA+. These stats would constitute a career year for 90% of starters in MLB but it is a relatively down year for Shane who has a career 3.10 FIP and finished 2020 with a MLB-best in ERA, strikeouts, and FIP. Bieber pitched 200 innings last year and finished seventh in Cy Young voting. All this is to say that Shane Bieber is one of the best starters in the sport and a tall task for the Orioles.
Unsurprisingly, O's hitters have had little success against Bieber but a couple of former AL Central players in James McCann and Ryan O'Hearn have had some success against him. McCann is 3-for-9 with a homer against Bieber in his career and O'Hearn has hit .313 in 16 at bats with a homer against him. Neither of these players are everyday players and it will be tough to find spots for both hitters while keeping Adley Rutschman, Ryan Mountcastle, and Anthony Santander in the lineup as well. Since this is a day game following a night game, McCann will likely get the start behind the dish, pushing Adley to DH. Since Mountcastle and O'Hearn both exclusively play first base, there is no feasible way to have both in the lineup so it is unlikely that O'Hearn gets a chance to continue his career success against Shane Bieber barring an injury.