The Baltimore Orioles roll into town to face the division leading* Toronto Blue Jays. And given that they are the Baltimore Orioles, this three game set presents a good opportunity to extend their leading margin. That's not just me being glib. The Jays haven't had a losing season to the Orioles since 2004, going 11-7, 11-8, 10-8, 12-6, 9-9, 15-3 and most recently 12-6 against them. Can they keep it up in 2012? All signs point to... Advance Scout.
The Orioles swept the Twins to open the season before getting swept with the Yankees, which to my mind pretty much perfectly explains the American League East. They did manage to lose the last two in extra innings, which, hey, more power to them.
Friday - Tommy Hunter vs. Brandon Morrow
Tommy Hunter only turns 26 this summer, which I find hard to believe given how long he's seemingly been around. He's pitched in parts of each of the last four seasons, and in that time established himself as a reliably below average starter. Hunter's problem is that he only really possesses one major league skill, which is his command, and even then he's not off the charts with it. Hunter's walked 2.23/9 IP throughout his career, which would have placed him in the upper quartile of qualified starters last year. However there isn't much else working Tommy's way: his strikeout numbers are way below par (fewer than 5/9 IP career), and he's not a groundball pitcher (40.2%). He's had relatively good luck stranding runners and not allowing hits on balls in play, but those things aren't really within his complete control. The result is a pitcher with a career FIP closer to 5 than to 4. If he was lefthanded I would say he'd be in the majors another 10 years, but alas for Hunter that is not the case. Hunter doesn't throw especially hard, though he did top out at about 93 last year, the best mark of his career. In his start against the Twins he was barely getting to 90 though, though this is a common affliction for pitchers before the weather warms up. Hunter relies heavily on the fastball as well as a cutter, throwing the occasional curve and even more occasional change. The curveball grades out strongly, but there isn't much reason to be worried about the other offerings. Still, Hunter was sharp in his first outing, going seven innings while allowing seven baserunners and whiffing 3; he picked up the W while allowing two unearned runs. Lifetime Hunter is 1-3 against the Jays with an ERA approaching 7; JPA is 1/10, Jose Bautista 3/17, Rajai Davis 3/9, EE 2/6, Yunel Escobar 6/11 with 4 XBH, Kelly Johnson 2/6, Brett Lawrie 3/8, Adam Lind 3/19 and Eric Thames 4/13.
Saturday - Jason Hammel vs. Henderson Alvarez
Jason Hammel, along with Matt Lindstrom, was acquired from the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie in the offseason. I don't know that the Orioles come out ahead on that trade, but Hammel was at least impressive in his first outing, having a no-no busted up in the 8th. He finished the inning and his final line counted 2 hits, 1 run, 3 walks and 5 Ks. Hammel has been impressive before, striking out around 7 batters per 9 innings with a K/BB ratio greater than 3/1 in both 2009 and 2010, with only some poor strand and babip numbers (and Coors) keeping him from the recognition he probably deserved. 2011 was a different story though as he fell off a cliff, walking more than 50% more batters while striking out a correspondingly fewer ratio. There were no Brett Cecil like velocity drops, he just... got worse. Still, old man Hammel is being counted upon as the veteran of this rotation - he has twice as many career starts than the rest of the Orioles staff combined. Hammel is a four pitch pitcher who throws the standard fastball/slider/curve/change. The slider and the curve are probably the best two of those pitches, with the 91-95 MPH fastball used primarily to set them up. Kelly Johnson is 5/14 lifetime against Hammel, while Yunel Escobar is 2/6; no one else has more than 4 ABs.
Sunday - Brian Matusz vs. Kyle Drabek
Brian Matusz gets his second and holy carp am I the only one who forgot how awful he was in 2011? His season was Halladay-esque, except that year where Halladay was the worst pitcher in moden baseball history. He was extremely unlucky, as one has to be to be that bad (20% HR/FB, .382 BABIP), but didn't help himself with a 1.5/1 K/BB highlighted by a 4.35 batters per nine innings walk rate. Matusz is still only 25, he was the fourth overall pick in 2008 and BA's #5 overall prospect in 2010, so clearly there's still hope, but just what exactly is happening with the Orioles pitcher development? Matusz made his major league debut in 2009 after throwing 113 innings in A+ and AA ball, where, admittedly, he was pretty dominant. He threw over 200 innings in 2009-2010, with a FIP of just over 4, striking out about 19% of the batters he faced while walking 7-8% of them. 2011 was, as mentioned, not a positive development, as his K% dropped to 15.5% and his BB% rose to almost 10%. This did happen after he missed the first two months of 2011 with an injury, and he was very unlucky, but it's hard to be that bad. His fastball velocity has tailed off each year he's been in the Majors, from 91.5 to 89.9 to 88.0 MPH. I am not sure if he recovers in 2012, but he's not off to a good start, allowing 4 earned runs in 4 innings against the Yankees. More distressingly, he walked 4 and only struck out 1 batter. I don't know that I would be optimistic if I was an Orioles fan, though he was working in the low 90s. Matusz relies heavily on that fastball, throwing each of his other pitchers - change, curve, slider - about 18%, 11% and 8% of the time respectively, although he did throw the slider more and the change less in his first start against New York, according to pitch f/x. The slider is probably Matusz's best pitch, although when he was on he was getting batters out with his fastball. Against Matusz Rajai Davis is 3/10 in his career, and Jeff Mathis 1/5. No other Jays have more than a game against him, though Yunel is 2/2 with a home run and 4 RBI.
The Orioles will probably roll thusly:
Nolan Reimold/Endy Chavez LF
JJ Hardy SS
Nick Markakis RF
Adam Jones CF
Matt Wieters C
Mark Reynolds 3B
Wilson Betemit/Nick Johnson DH
Chris Davis 1B
Robert Andino 2B
I really love the symmetry of Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that I could probably play a better third base than either of them; Mark Reynolds has a career UZR of -10.5/150 GP at third base; he was even worse in 2011 at -30.3. Defensive Runs Saved is just as harsh, at -22 runs. That was third worst in baseball, and only a handful of players were even below -10. He and Davis have flip flopped between first and third, with Reynolds settling at third to start this year. Davis' defense at first has been below average but not awful, at least; at third he also graded out at Dunn-esque levels. Reynolds wins the strikeout battle though, at 33% career vs 31%. Reynolds leads in power too, and he is clearly the superior player, which is sort of like being the best looking clown: nice but you're still a clown. Chris Davis is just not a major league first baseman... Nick Markakis has basically been getting worse every year since he posted a .306/.406/.491 line in 2008. His OBP has stabilized, but his slugging numbers have dropped every year, to just .406 in 2011; where he once looked like a star, he's now basically just a decent corner outfielder...Matt Wieters has always been a whiz defensively, but it looks like he's finally putting things together with the bat. He hit well to end last year, and is hitting .353 with 2 home runs through 6 games so far... The Orioles just signed Joel Pineiro to a minor league deal... Jim Johnson is the O's closer, and Country Strong Kevin Gregg is reduced to just blowing games (he took the most recent Yankees loss).
In Jays news, Sergio Santos is expecting the birth of his child and should rejoin the team in time for Saturday's game.
Infirmary: Zach Britton, SP (shoulder), Brian Roberts, 2B (Concussion), Taylor Teagarden, C (lower back), and Tsuyoshi Wada, SP (left elbow) are all on the 15-day DL. Teagarden could be back by the end of the month, as could Wada; Roberts is taking some ground balls but there's no set date for his return; Britton might be back in May. Dontrelle Willis is on the 7-day DL in AAA.
Song to Advance Scout By: I'm going to try this out, mostly for my own amusement. If you don't like it there is a full money back guarantee. Anyway, this segment's song is... Levels, by Avicii
Chart: Still sticking with the 2011 numbers for at least this series and the next. Data courtesy of Fangraphs; BR, Yahoo and Wikipedia helped with the rest.