|8/2||7:05p||Camden Yards||Aaron Harang v. Chris Tillman|
|8/3||7:05p||Camden Yards||Erasmo Ramirez v. Scott Feldman|
|8/4||1:35p||Camden Yards||Joe Saunders v. Wei-Yin Chen|
The Baltimore Orioles stand at 60-49, 5.5 games back of the AL East-leading Boston Red Sox and tied with Texas for the second Wild Card spot. This year, they attempt to do so by implementing a new strategy, namely a positive run differential. These aren’t your slightly older brother’s Orioles: gone are the Lew Fords, the Endy Chavezes, the Robert Andinos. Gone is Nate McLouth, replaced by insidious and talented parasite lodged in the brain stem of Nate McLouth’s body. The Orioles are no longer out to destroy your enjoyment of baseball by proving that the game is 99% luck. Instead, they have a pretty decent team, defined as "a team that will get annihilated in the first round if it manages to win the play-in game."
What’s interesting about the Orioles is how similar they are to the Mariners from a philosophical standpoint. Baltimore as a team leads all of baseball in home runs, thanks to a certain first baseman, and sits near the bottom of the league in terms of walks. They’ve built their team by surrounding their talented youth with cheap veterans. They don’t even have a Felix or even an Iwakuma. To be fair, their prospects have actually panned out, and they’ve been remarkably healthy. Oh, also, they rank second in terms of UZR.
Seattle, of course, is reeling from its second soul-withering series of the year, after losing to the Boston Red Sox by a score of happy to sad on yet another walkoff performance. The M’s relief corps, so invaluable on July 31, now appears untradeable in more than one respect, as the bullpen has coughed up 47 hits and 25 walks in just 45.2 innings since the break. Relievers do this, of course, and it’s only really awful when they’re all doing it at once. Like, say, now. When it happens, all you can do is shrug your shoulders and build a time machine to go back before the deadline.
But let’s look forward. The Orioles feature Chris Davis, the guy in 2013 we all saw in Justin Smoak in 2011 when we squinted really hard. Davis seemed to be cooling down, going ten whole games without a home run. Then, the Astros came to town, and now he’s fine. Manny Machado turned 21 a month ago, so he has at least half a dozen years to learn how to take a walk, but he’s great at everything else. Nate McLouth I won’t try to explain. The rest of the regulars, including Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, and Nick Markakis, are all guys with holes in their game but enough talent to make up for it.
Tonight the team will awkwardly renew its relationship with Chris Tillman, missing piece of our hearts. Tillman was famously added to the All-Star roster by manager/walking carcinogen Jim Leyland over more deserving candidates like Hiroki Kuroda based on his number of wins. The basic stats are shiny, including a 13-3 record and a 3.62 ERA, but in reality he’s been average at best, as noted by his 4.72 FIP. Average pitchers are nice, though, especially when they’re cheap.
Scott Feldman is one of those guys I’ve always underrated, in part because he was one of the Rangers’ interchangeable starter/relievers for years, and in part because he doesn’t strike anyone out. But he’s above average, and a nice pickup for the Orioles. He’s an utter junkballer who doesn’t walk many batters, and who sports a strong cutter and curve.
On Sunday we see Wei-Yin Chen, who despite only starting twelve games is easily Baltimore’s best starter this year. Though his strikeout rate has plummeted to Feldmanian levels (5.5 K/9), Chen has posted quality starts in eight of his last nine outings. The only exception was against the Mariners on May 1, when he gave up five runs in only four innings. Chen’s a flyball pitcher, but as noted at Camden Chat yesterday, not all fly balls make it to the warning track, explaining why he and so many other Orioles starters are outperforming their xFIP.
It’s August, that bleak month between the opportunity to trade for prospects and the ability to see a bunch of prospects. Whether you agree with Jack’s decision to stand pat at the deadline, and its impact on the long-term health of the club, it should have made this month more watchable. Let’s get on that, regression.