These Birds are Flying: Orioles Series Preview

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Baltimore Orioles

June 9th – June 12th

Written by Matt Gwin and Molly Tissenbaum

After tearing through the Yankees and Red Sox over the last few weeks, one would have hoped that the Jays would be closer to the top of the AL East. Instead, while the Jays were doing their winning, the Orioles were keeping pace. As a result, Baltimore’s team now leads the division, and the Blue Jays are 4.5 games back. If they can pull off a series win, there’s a chance that the Jays will find themselves in the second wildcard spot, and thus a pole position for a postseason spot. However, that will require a very poor showing from the Mariners in their series vs. Texas. Slow and steady wins this race.

Pitching Matchups:

Thursday, June 9th – 7:07 PM ET

Marcus Stroman vs. Tyler Wilson

Thus far, Stroman has had mixed results. He currently holds a staff worst 4.82 ERA, but also a staff best 80.1 IP. Also, it could easily be argued that three of his last four starts included the three worst starts of his career. Call it a slump, if you will. I still firmly believe that regression and baseball smarts will fix Stroman’s season; I iterated as much this past week. However, in order to do that, he will have to start showing some changes eventually. Fortunately, the Orioles are a reasonably good candidate for Stroman’s revival. While they currently hold MLB’s fifth highest OPS, they also hold the third lowest contact rate. As we’ve seen, getting ground balls hasn’t been Stroman’s issue. Rather, it has been not stranding enough runners, and a few more strikeouts should allow him to do that.

In terms of major league pitching, Tyler Wilson is pretty much unremarkable in every way. Here are a few quotes from his pitch description on Brooks Baseball:

“His fourseam fastball is straight as an arrow, generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ four seamers”
“His slider comes in below hitting speed, sweeps across the zone, has exceptional depth, generates fewer whiffs/swing compared to other pitchers’ sliders and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ sliders”
“His change is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers’ changeups”

If that’s not unremarkable, then I don’t know what is. Now, with that said, over the last couple of months he has seemingly learned a thing or two from the Blue Jays’ pitching staff. In 2016, he has consistently thrown ~65% fastballs (only slightly fewer than last year), but he’s throwing an increasing amount of sinkers, and a decreasing amount of four seamers. Against many teams, that’s likely to be an effective strategy. However, the Jays are rather good at hitting the fastball, so expect them to score quite a few runs.

June 10th – 7:07 PM ET

Marco Estrada vs. Kevin Gausman

It’ll be tough for Marco to top his last performance, wherein he took a no-hitter in to the eighth inning before it was broken up by a Chris Young home run. As a result of that homer (and Osuna’s near meltdown), Marco’s stat line didn’t quite look immaculate, but those who watched the game know just how good he was. In fact, that’s kind of been the case all season. Similarly to 2015, all of the traditional regression metrics like BABIP, HR/FB%, and LOB% all saw that Estrada shouldn’t continue to be as good as he’s been. However, he has done it for just over a year now. There’s bound to be some regression, as Estrada likely isn’t a sub 2.50 ERA pitcher, but a lot of it is very real.

Like Marco Estrada, Kevin Gausman is outperforming his FIP by a wide margin. However, unlike Marco, Kevin has no calling card to explain why exactly that is. Gausman’s strikeout and walk totals have been rather decent this season, but that’s never been his problem. Instead it is home runs that plague him, and 2016 has been no different. In two of his last three starts he’s given up three homers. Jose Bautista, it’s your time shine.

June 11th – 1:07 PM ET

J.A. Happ vs. Mike Wright

Of the Blue Jays’ many pitching miracles, J.A. Happ is probably the one that we should believe in the least. In comparison to 2015, wherein Happ’s ERA was similarly great, he now has little peripheral footing with which to back it up. He’s posting a career low 5.71 K/9, and a respectable, but not superb 2.85 BB/9. Then, given that he’s not even producing a particularly high amount of soft contact, one shouldn’t expect his BABIP to remain so low. However, more than 90% of the pitches he throws should look like fastballs coming out of his hand. In a way, that’s one form of deception. Deception usually works for a while in MLB, but not forever, and not often against big fastball hitters like Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. Happ will have to proceed with caution.

Mike Wright has a mediocre strikeout rate, a mediocre walk rate, and a mediocre ground ball rate. 80% of the pitches he throws should look like fastballs coming out of his hand. Essentially, his peripherals suggest he’s J.A. Happ, minus the shiny sub 4.00 ERA. Instead, Mike Wright has a 5.14 ERA, a 4.96 FIP, and 4.98 DRA. Both the real ERA and ERA estimators alike agree that he’s really not very good. The Blue Jays, good fastball hitters as they are, should have no trouble with him.

June 12th – 1:07 PM ET

Aaron Sanchez vs. Ubaldo Jimenez

In every single series preview I write from here on out this season, I will happily write that I, Matt Gwin, was wrong about Aaron Sanchez. He had a rough patch through the first half of May in which he looked like he might go off the rails. However, through the second half of May and in to the first half of June he has certainly righted the course. In his last start, against the Tigers, he had 12 strikeouts, and just one walk. After the game, Tigers’ slugger Miguel Cabrera noted:

“Whew. Wow. Very impressed. Very impressed. … To pitch over 95 mph for eight innings, that’s impressive, with a good breaking ball. He showed a little bit of changeup, but he doesn’t need a changeup.”

That’s about as hearty as an endorsement gets.

For yet another time, Ubaldo Jimenez’s velocity has decreased. As late as 2010, he was throwing above 96 MPH regularly. Now, he struggles to touch 94 MPH. On top of that, his command is all but gone. While he can keep the ball inside the park, he struggles to keep it inside the strike zone. Those same results have been consistent across each of his starts this season. In turn, he has been limited to 5 IP or less in 75% of his starts. Because Ubaldo has a plethora of pitches that actually move pretty well, the Jays are unlikely to hammer a bunch of hits off of him, and that has been the trend. Every single Toronto player with 20+ PA vs Jimenez has a sub. 700 OPS, with Jose Bautista checking in with a woeful line of .091/.232/.121. Instead, for the Jays, patience will be key. I’m looking at you, Kevin Pillar.

Additions and Subtractions

There wasn’t a lot of movement on the Blue Jays roster these past few days. Matt Dominguez’ brief return to the big leagues was short lived, as the was optioned back to Buffalo to make room for another reliever. That arm ended up being the switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, who is now already on his fourth stint with the club this year.

Similarly, the Orioles haven’t dealt with much in the way of roster changes. However, the great Darren O’Day/Jose Bautista rivarly will sadly have to wait for a little while to be renewed, as the submarine righty has been played on the 15 day disabled list with a hamstring strain. In his place, they have recalled RHP Mike Wright who will be starting Saturday’s game.

Keep an Eye On

Wieters is Getting Hot

Matt Wieters is giving the Orioles some much needed depth to the lineup that has been relying on the magic of Manny Machado and the resurgence of Mark Trumbo. In his last 15 games, Weiters is hitting .368 and slugging .614, with 14 RBIs. When he is hitting, the Orioles lineup has a lot more depth and can score a lot of runs in bunches.

Darwin Barney’s Tulo Impression

Over his last 15 games, Darwin Barney has posted a .333 batting average, .377 on base percentage, and a .458 slugging percentage. In that same time, he has seven RBI and hit three home runs, while filling in for the injured Tulowitzki. He is also playing a very good shortstop, which while not a total surprise, is nice to see given Barney’s lack of MLB experience at the position.

Devon Travis

On the other side of the keystone sack, things aren’t looking quite so healthy. Having cooled off significantly since he made his return to the Blue Jays, Devon Travis is now hitting just .174 on the season. In his last 3 games, he was 0 for 12 with three strikeouts and no walks. The expectation was that Travis would provide the offensive boost over what the Jays had been getting from Goins, but their numbers are almost identical. It will pose an interesting problem for the Jays when Tulo returns on Monday. Do they ride the hot hand in Barney, or do they roll with the long term answer? We’ll find out soon.

Probable Lineup

Blue Jays


Jose Bautista – RF Adam Jones – CF
Josh Donaldson – 3B Hyun Soo Kim – LF
Edwin Incarnation – DH Manny Machado – SS
Michael Saunders – RF Mark Trumbo – RF
Justin Smoak – 1B Chris Davis – 1B
Russell Martin – C Matt Wieters – C
Devon Travis – 2B Pedro Alvarez – DH
Kevin Pillar – CF Jonathan Schoop – 2B
Darwin Barney – SS Ryan Flaherty – 3B

via Roster Resource

Final Thoughts

After a tough three game series in Detroit where the Jays lost two of three, they are now 4.5 games back going into the series against the Orioles. In recent weeks, the Blue Jays have looked poised to continue climbing back towards the top. Things will get tough here, as Manny Machado continues to lead the first place Orioles offence while playing elite defence at both spots on the left side of the infield. There will be plenty of homerun power on display in this series as well, with Trumbo, Davis, and Machado matching up with Bautista, Donaldson, and Encarnacion. The Blue Jays need Marcus Stroman to bounce back from his less than stellar outings on the road and make a statement Thursday night against the O’s.

Lead Photo: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

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