Following a dominant 14-1 win in New York, the Baltimore Orioles head to Minneapolis to face the first-place Minnesota Twins in a three-game series before the All-Star Break. Despite the blowout win in the Evil Empire, the Orioles have struggled over the past week and a half, losing six of their last nine. Last weekend, the Orioles hosted the Twins and lost two of three while the offense struggled with only three total runs in those three games.
The big question for the O's is whether or not outfielders Austin Hays and Aaron Hicks will return this weekend from injury or if the O's will hold off on playing them until after the break. Hays has already announced that he plans to play in the All-Star Game on Tuesday so he should be close to a return despite not playing in the previous series against the Yankees. Let's preview the entire weekend series as the Orioles hope to gain even more ground on the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East.
1. Game One- Cole Irvin vs. Bailey Ober. Friday at 8:10 PM
It has been the tale of two seasons for Cole Irvin and Bailey Ober. Irvin comes in with a 1-3 record with a 6.32 ERA and has spent the majority of the season in Triple-A Norfolk. He did have a decent start last Sunday against the Twins when he pitched five innings and gave up one run on six hits. He did, however, walk three batters and only struck out one. This is particularly concerning because Irvin was touted as a control artist when the O's acquired him from the Oakland A's over the offseason.
He has walked a career-high 3.7 batters per nine innings this season and has been quite hittable throughout his career. His 40 hits and 13 walks in 31.1 innings pitched gives him a lackluster 1.69 WHIP while his FIP sits at 5.01. Despite a bad start several weeks ago against the Chicago Cubs, Irvin has improved in his second stint with the big league club as he has allowed exactly one earned run in four of his last five appearances. Twins batters also have experience against Irvin. Carlos Correa has a .308 career average in 13 at bats against Irvin as they both played in the AL West in 2021. Christian Vazquez is an impressive 6-for-10 in his career against Irvin as well.
Ober has had an impressive season in Minnesota and is part of a three-headed monster with Sonny Gray and Joe Ryan which is one of the best starting pitching trios in baseball. Rising from relative obscurity, the Charlotte native was a 12th-round pick in 2017 from the College of Charleston in South Carolina before getting a chance in 2021. This season, Ober has a 2.70 ERA and 160 ERA+ in 76.2 innings pitched 13 starts. Similar to Irvin, Ober is touted for his pinpoint control as he walked less than 2 batters per 9 innings in each of his three seasons.
This season, he has walked 1.8 per nine. Last Saturday, Ober had one of his best career starts against the Orioles as he pitched seven shutout innings with 2 hits, no walks, and 8 strikeouts in a 1-0 win for the Twins. He also pitched efficiently with only 85 pitches in those seven innings. The Orioles must find a way to flip the script against Ober tonight if they want to extend their win streak to three games. The good news is that the offense has turned a corner since last weekend. Ryan O'Hearn has the most career at bats of any Oriole against Ober and is coming off a three-hit performance so the Orioles need him to have a strong night if the O's want to do any damage.
2. Game Two- Tyler Wells vs. Sonny Gray. Saturday at 2:10 PM
This pitching matchup may be one of the most underrated matchups of aces in baseball this weekend. Tyler Wells has quietly had a great season for the Orioles despite his trouble with the long ball which likely kept him off the All-Star team. For the first time this season, Wells will face his former organization after the Orioles picked him up from Minnesota in the 2021 Rule-5 draft. Notably, Wells has the best WHIP of any qualified pitcher in the majors at 0.90.
Despite this, he has given up 21 home runs in 16 starts which accounts for nearly one-third of all the hits he has given up. Home runs have been his undoing all season but he has made up for this with strong strikeout numbers as he has struck out exactly one batter per inning this season. He has also never given up a home run to any current Twins player and has pitched quite well against some of their star hitters. Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Joey Gallo, and Max Kepler are collectively 0-for-19 against Wells. If these trends continue and he can keep the ball in the yard, Tyler should have another strong start Saturday and give the O's a chance against the Twins' lone All-Star in Sonny Gray.
Gray leads the American League with a 173 ERA+ this season and all of baseball with only 0.3 homers given up per nine innings. In 93.2 innings he has only allowed three homers total which is extremely impressive in an era where home runs are as common as ever. The Orioles have also not hit a whole lot of home runs in the past week and a half so the O's should not expect to leave the yard against Gray on Saturday. On Sunday, Gray pitched six shutout innings allowing only two hits with seven strikeouts.
Sonny did allow three walks and working long at bats will be the O's best strategy against him. The Orioles have hitters such as Adley Rutschman and Anthony Santander who work tough at bats but they have also added Colton Cowser to the roster since Gray's start last Sunday. Cowser has drawn three walks in two career games thus far so his patience will be an asset against Gray. Similar to Wells, Gray has pitched well against the current Orioles. Aaron Hicks is 0-for-12 and Cedric Mullins 0-for-8 in their careers against Sonny. The most successful O's hitter is Austin Hays who is 2-for-6 against Gray in his career. Hopefully he is healthy enough to enter the lineup Saturday.
3. Game Three- Kyle Gibson vs. Joe Ryan. Sunday at 2:10 PM
Unfortunately for me, writing this article made me realize that the O's will face each of the Twins' starting pitchers that make up their dynamic trio. That is a tough break heading into the All-Star break in a series that the O's would love to win to head into the break with good vibes. Anyways, Kyle Gibson will hope to turn the ship around on Sunday afternoon after several rough starts. In his last three starts, he has allowed 15 earned runs in 13.2 innings.
Yeah, that's not great. However, he did complete six innings on Independence Day against the Yankees and has had an overall successful season as he will face the team he pitched for during the majority of his career. This will be his AL-best 19th start and he comes in with a mediocre 4.73 ERA, 4.05 FIP, and 88 ERA+. He has also been somewhat successful against current Twins hitters. Carlos Correa is 3-for-15 in his career against Gibson. Byron Buxton is 1-for-3 and the only Twin with a home run against Gibson in his career. He will need a bounce back to give the O's a chance on Sunday.
Similar to Bailey Ober, Joe Ryan has risen from relative obscurity to become a solid starting pitcher in his third career season with the Twins. The San Francisco native was a seventh round pick out of college in 2018 and got his chance in 2021. Several starts ago, Ryan pitched a complete game shutout against the Red Sox in a 6-0 win. Not surprisingly he is tied for the MLB lead with that one shutout. Since then, Ryan got crushed by the Braves for six earned runs in three innings two starts ago and bounced back with a quality start against the Royals last time around.
His strikeout and walk numbers are particularly impressive with 10 strikeouts per 9 innings and 1.4 walks in that same span. His strikeout to walk ratio is an extremely strong 7.13. Unsurprisingly, the Orioles have struggled in limited chances against Ryan. However, both Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins are 2-for-6 in their careers against him. Of the three starters the O's face this weekend, Ryan is the one that is the most "gettable" so this game will be big heading into the extended break.