Series Preview: Baltimore Orioles (42-31, 2nd AL East) vs Toronto Blue Jays (35-36, 5th AL East)


May 6, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher R.A. Dickey (43) in the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 8-7. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
We have seen this before everyone. I have seen comparisons to the Rockies of 2007 and 2009 as teams who have come back from putrid starts to win their division. I say look no further than our 1989 team. That one started 12-24 when Jimy Williams got canned for Cito Gaston on his first tour as manager of the Blue Jays. That team went on to win 89 games and the AL East pennant. It will take more than 89 wins for our beloved Jays but it can be done. If we finish off June with a winning record it is because we are beating the teams we need to beat…the ones in our own backyard. First the three against the Orioles and then on the road for 3 in Tampa and 4 in Boston. If we can win each series, theoretically the Jays would finish June 42-39 with one loss to each of the above. Seems quite doable.

The Orioles, however, are proving they aren’t a flash in the pan from last year. They sit a mere game behind the Red Sox and their offence seems to be carrying their less than stellar pitching (sound familiar?). They rank 2nd in the AL in team BA (.274), 2nd in OPS (.780), 1st in home runs (98), 2nd in hits (703), 2nd in runs (360)…not too shabby. When you consider that their pitching is 14th in ERA (4.39), 9th in WHIP (1.33), 13th in opp BA (.260) and 1st in HR allowed (100) it is startling to see them so high in the standings. A team cannot keep up such a pace and expect to contend. I see the Orioles as a sleeping non-giant that is due for a little tumble in the standings. This series is going to be very interesting…

Probable Starting Pitchers

Game 1: Jason Hammel (7-4, 5.24 ERA) vs R.A. Dickey (6-8, 4.90 ERA)
Game 2: Miguel Gonzalez (5-2, 3.75 ERA) vs Chien-Ming Wang (1-0, 3.14 ERA)
Game 3: TBA vs Josh Johnson (0-2, 4.38 ERA)

Jason Hammel is a microcosm of their pitching woes: decent W-L (which proves it means nothing really) but the numbers suggest a man who has been bailed out by his offense. In his last 10 he has given up over 4 or more runs 5 times…thus 5 times he has given up 3 or less. Sounds very…Dickeysian. This is turning out to be his worst season since he was with the Rays waaaay back in 2007 (yes I forgot he pitched there too). With his WHIP almost 1.5 and his opp BA at .280, the frees swinging Jays may have found the right pitcher to extend their win streak to 9…unless…

Dickey has been the one member of the rotation that drives me nuts. He shows up some days and his knuckler makes the opponents look like fools…FOOLS I SAY! Then there is the other Dickey. The one who has given up more than SIX runs in 4 of his past 10 outings. The one who has fought through back and shoulder issues and back-handedly called out his teammates for not pitching through pain. If this is what happens when you pitch through pain, perhaps it isn’t such a great idea. Josh Johnson has looked great after his recovery. Perhaps that is road he should have taken. I understand being a baller but it only works if you still help your team and Dickey has not been the rock he thinks he is. Perhaps his last start against Texas will be a stepping stone (7 IP, 1 ER). Perhaps it will be like his start in Chicago against the White Sox (5 IP, 7 ER). This game depends completely on which Dickey comes to play.

Gonzalez continues to be a pleasant surprise for the Orioles. 2012 was a decent year for him and he continues that through to this year. It is safe to assume he is what he is: a control type pitcher who will give you 6 innings of yeoman’s work, not many hits, not many walks. His K:BB is almost 3 to 1 in his last 10 starts. Aside from a 6 run hiccup against the Tigers, he has given up 4 or less runs in the other 9 games. He has traditionally been a fly ball type pitcher for the most part so perhaps our homering ways will help get some runs…though hopefully with men on base.

Wang is turning out to be quite the find. His 2.33 ERA in AAA was pretty good but we all know that means nothing. So the fact he has turned back to the clock in some ways to 19 game winner Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees 2007 edition. He has given up the hits to the tune of about 1 an inning but for the most part is a control guy who is able to keep the ball on the ground. His GO/AO is 2.33 so far this year which is right in line with his career 2.25 GO/AO. He seems perfectly healthy now and is just the type of stop gap we need since Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ aren’t close to returning yet. He and Rogers may turn out to be team MVPs if they can keep this up.

I don’t respond to TBDs so let’s look at Mr. Josh Johnson. In the last 3 starts since he has been back Johnson looks like the pitcher we had hoped we were getting back in December. His fastball was clocked at 94 and occasionally hit 96. Last year it was 91 hitting perhaps 93. It seems like he has finally fully comeback from the injuries and may be the ace that Dickey is not. His start against Texas was kind of lousy but he was still finding his groove. I think this may be the beginning of what we expected Brandon Morrow to be. This game should go to the good guys in a bit of a laugher.

Probably Starting Lineups

Baltimore Orioles

1. LF: Nate McLouth
2. 3B: Manny Machado
3. RF: Nick Markakis
4. CF: Adam Jones
5. 1B: Chris Davis
6. SS: J.J. Hardy
7. 1B: Travis Ishikawa
8. 2B: Alexi Casilla
9. C: Taylor Teagarden

Toronto Blue Jays

1. LF: Melky Cabrera
2. RF: Jose Bautista
3. DH: Edwin Encarnacion
4. 1B: Adam Lind
5. CF: Colby Rasmus
6. C: J.P. Arencibia
7. 3B: Maicer Izturis
8. 2B: Emilio Bonifacio
9. SS: Munenori Kawasaki

Is there a hotter hitter in baseball than Adam Lind? Yusiel Puig maybe? He is right up there with the best. But Lind’s overall .340 avg, .961 OPS is the good news. The even better news is Lind has been crushing away from the Rogers Centre to a tune of a .375 BA, an OPS of 1.016. The biggest difference is in his K:BB split. At home it is 18:18 but on the road it is 20:5. Makes the numbers a little more difficult to digest but who cares. He is back to the 2009 Adam Lind and it’s a great thing too considering the black hole offensive void that is currently 2B. When Brett Lawrie gets back we can look forward to better defense overall and a decent hitter at 2B (Izturis finally seems to have come out of his slump). What came from Lind was kind of unexpected so let’s ride the train while it is still teaming down the tracks.

On the Orioles side, the catalyst is quite apparent. Chris Davis has been a model of bashing consistency. He leads the AL in Home runs with 26. He leads in OPS in the AL with a 1.132. He is 2nd in RBI. He is a machine! As Davis, and a lesser extent Adam Jones, go so go the Orioles. In his last 10 games his average has never gone out of the bounds of .338 and .332. He is consistent and he is the biggest threat at the plate this year that isn’t named Votto or Cabrera.

Final Word

We all know winning streaks fail all the time. The Blue Jays are one of those teams that has never had a ridiculous winning streak during their existence. My gut tells me that if Wang can get through the vaunted Orioles attack and we clobber Hammel and TBD like we should, then this could easily be a sweep. The key to it all…starting pitching. Our bullpen is lights out so all we need is to ensure that they are not overworked. If out starters can consistently hit 7 innings then this season could still turn itself around. We are close. We need to step on the necks of our AL East brethren and take that damn title away. The Wild Card is no sure thing with the AL West allowed to boost their stats on the backs of the Astros. We must aim for the division title and it is definitely gettable. A few more weeks like this and we may well play meaningful baseball in September.