SB Nation Blog
The Opponent in one sentence
The Orioles are, at best, the worst team in the American League with an all-time bad pitching staff and an offense that shows flashes at times but generally is only fine by comparison to their pitching.
Red Sox 2, Orioles 2
Down. The Orioles did win their last game agains the Rays on Saturday before being rained out on Sunday, but that’s been rare for them. It was just the second win over their last eight games, and extending it even further they are 5-12 in the 17 games since their split with Boston in mid-April. Baltimore won their first two series of the year, and they have yet to win one since.
5/6: Josh A. Smith vs. John Means, 7:05 PM ET
The Red Sox have the fifth spot in their rotation coming up for the series opener on Monday, and for the first time since the Nathan Eovaldi went down with his injury it’s not going to be Hector Velázquez getting the start. Instead, it will be Smith. The righty was called up on April 26 to start a game that ended up being rained out, and he then spent eight days on the active roster without pitching. He finally made his first appearance of the year on Friday, tossing a solid inning to close out a blowout victory. Now, he makes his first start in a Red Sox uniform on Saturday. Smith made three starts in Pawtucket this year, pitching to a 3.87 ERA over 16 2⁄3 innings with 23 strikeouts and five walks. Last season he pitched to a 4.14 ERA over 74 innings with the PawSox with 76 strikeouts and 16 walks. Smith has gotten up to 96 pitches once this year and through six innings twice, so if he pitches well this one could be longer than the Velázquez spot starts have been.
Means is essentially in his first major-league season, having appeared in just one game for 3 1⁄3 innings in 2018. The lefty has split time between the rotation and bullpen, making four appearances in the rotation and four out of relief. All in all, he is putting together a solid season, though there are clear signs of regression coming. Still, Means has allowed exactly one earned run in three of his four starts and overall he has a 2.81 ERA. The 26-year-old does have just about a strikeout per inning and he’s walking just 2.5 batters per nine innings, but he’s also struggling a bit in keeping the ball in the yard. Means has a 4.51 FIP and 4.62 DRA, suggesting more of a league-average pitcher than the one we’ve seen thus far. This will be the second time the Red Sox see him this year, as they scored just one run over five innings back in mid-April. So far this year he leans most on a fastball that sits in the 92-93 mph range as well as a a changeup, plus two breaking balls he uses sparingly.
5/7: TBD vs. David Hess, 7:05 PM ET
This start was originally supposed to go to David Price, who as of this writing is still listed as the probable on the Red Sox website. Of course, since he was placed on the injured list on Monday he will not be making the start. There are really only two options here. Hector Velázquez could get the call, simply being pushed back a day from when he’d normally start. They could also start Ryan Weber, who was called up as the corresponding move when Price was placed onto he IL. Presumably, Velázquez is the preferred option, but they could potentially decide they want to use him in Monday’s game.
Hess is the other half of this Battle of the Davids, and he is in the midst of his second major-league season. He had a rough year last year in which he finished with a 4.88 ERA that was somewhat significantly better than his peripherals suggested it should have been. He’s pitching similarly this season, with his ERA on the rise. Hess has a 5.34 ERA this year, and that comes after tossing 8 1⁄3 scoreless innings over his first two appearances of the season. The righty doesn’t get many strikeouts, can lose his control at times but is mostly average in that department and has a heavy fly ball tendency that has led to two three-homer games against him in 2019. The Red Sox hit one against him earlier this year and scored three runs overall over 5 2⁄3 innings. This season Hess has featured a fastball in the 92-94 range with a slider and a changeup.
5/8: Chris Sale vs. Andrew Cashner, 7:05 PM ET
Sale looked like Sale again in his last start against the White Sox, and I’m fascinated to see what he looks like in this one. His velocity was consistent and where we expect, sitting around 93-94 and getting up to 96 at times. There is some potential that some of that was adrenaline-based, though, considering it was a return home of sorts for the southpaw. Of course, this is who we expect him to be almost every time, and the hope is that this was a preview of what we’ll see the rest of the year. I’d still like to see a bit of a sharper slider this time out, but he was commanding the pitch against the White Sox and that was more than enough to help push him to ten strikeouts over six innings. Sale has not faced Baltimore this season, but in 2018 he pitched to a 2.18 ERA over four starts and 20 2⁄3 innings with 37 strikeouts and seven walks.
Cashner has watched his rate of strikeouts per nine innings rise by over a full strikeout compared to the previous season in each of the last two years. Cashner has also seen his ERA rise significantly compared to his 2017 ERA, when he was setting down fewer than five batters per nine innings. That is not so much an argument for the righty to pitch to contact but rather to point out that his 2017 was as fluky as we all thought it was. He headed to Baltimore after that year, and he’s struggled since. This season, he is striking out just under seven strikeouts per nine innings, which is his highest rate since 2016. He is also getting ground balls on 54 percent of balls in play, his highest rate since 2012. Despite all that, he has a 4.71 ERA and peripherals that are slightly worse (by FIP) or significantly worse (by DRA). He did limit damage when he faced the Red Sox in mid-April, though, allowing three runs over five innings.
Notable Position Players
Trey Mancini has been far and away the best player on the Orioles this season. A lot of his production at the plate is being floated by a wildly unsustainable .412 batting average on balls in play, to be fair. Still, he’s walking at a league-average rate and with a strikeout rate within an acceptable margin of average. He’s also posting a .238 Isolated Power, so there’s a lot of good going on here even if you strip out the luck factors.
Jonathan Villar is at the top of Baltimore’s lineup most days, and he’s largely just going to put the ball in play. There’s some pop here, but not a ton. There’s also some patience, but again not a ton. Villar is largely going to hit the ball somewhat low, and he’s going to rely on his elite speed and athleticism to do well. Right now, it’s working to the tune of a perfectly average 100 wRC+.
Dwight Smith Jr. is a fun player to watch, if you’re into a certain breed of player. Smith is going to swing a good amount and he’s going to make a good amount of contact, with it often being loud. That approach can get him into trouble if a pitcher can take advantage, but he’s red-hot right now with a .211 ISO and 145 wRC+ over the last two weeks.
Renato Nunez does not walk much and he strikes out a bunch, but he can make some loud contact which keeps him useful, if still below-average, at the plate.
Chris Davis famously got his first hit in 62 plate appearances the last time these two teams faced off. He had three hits in that game, and starting with then he’s hit .289/.333/.556 in his last 15 games.
Rio Ruiz has made a decent amount of contact and drawn a whole lot of walks, but he’s still been well-below average because the quality of his contact has been....lacking.
Joey Rickard has an ugly 60 wRC+ and a strikeout rate of 25 percent, which is not good. However, he draws some walks and hits for decent power, and his .231 BABIP is holding him below what he should be.
Hanser Alberto has been getting more starts for Baltimore lately, and he’s another guy who will just put the ball in play and try to make something happen with his legs.
Mychal Givens is the best reliever in Baltimore’s bullpen, and while he’s miscast in that role he has been solid this year. He’s combining strikeouts with solid if unspectacular control and it’s leading to the looks of a guy who can handle a third or fourth spot in a playoff bullpen. He’s certainly going to be a trade chip this summer, and the Orioles will probably try to get something done sooner than later.
Miguel Castro has been brutal in a setup role for the Orioles this year and is probably pitching his way out of it if he hasn’t already. The righty’s strikeout rate is up from last year, but he’s also totally lost his command a whole lot this year.
Paul Fry is the top lefty in this Baltimore bullpen, and while he won’t get a ton of strikeouts he gets ground balls to help limit the damage.
Mark Trumbo has been out all year with a knee injury, and he’s starting to move around on it a bit more but still may not be ready when he’s eligible to return in a few weeks.
Alex Cobb went down with a back injury in his last start and is going to spend some time on the shelf because of it. He was originally slated to start in this series.
Richard Bleier is dealing with a shoulder injury, but it doesn’t appear to be anything too serious.
Nate Karns went down with a shoulder injury very early in the year, made a rehab appearance then was pulled off his rehab. He’s throwing again now, but they haven’t yet put a timetable on his return.
The Orioles were rained out on Sunday, but it doesn’t appear that will be an issue for this one. It may not be perfectly clear in the sky all week, but they should avoid any precipitation for this series.