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Baltimore Orioles series preview: These O's ain't Royal

The Royals try to recapture their winning ways in Baltimore facing the AL East co-leading Orioles.

Bash bros?
Bash bros?
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

After getting swept out of first place in the division by Cleveland, the World Champion Kansas City Royals head to Baltimore to take on the 2014 American League East Champion Orioles. Those Orioles were swept out of the ALCS by the Royals. There is a degree of ill-will borne through recent postseason history between these two squads, though it hasn't resulted in any of the bench-clearing incidents that followed the Royals last year.

The Royals enter the series down 1.5 games in their division while the Orioles pulled into a tie with the Red Sox in the AL East.

*All stats courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference

Pitching match-ups

Game One - Monday, 6:05 PM CDT

Danny Duffy 20 36.2 40 7 3.44 3.09 3.66 3.09
TBD ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?

This piece was written on Sunday. At the time of writing the starter for Monday's game had yet to be decided, the second such time a starting pitcher had not been determined heading into a series with the Orioles. One quick look at the rotation should give any casual baseball fan a good idea as to what caliber of pitcher the Royals can expect to face. The names in the mix for this spot are Mike Wright - who just got Ventura-to-Omaha'd on Thursday only to get recalled when reliever Darren O'Day went on the DL on Friday - T.J. McFarland, and Vance Worley. None of those three options are particularly good, though with the hot-or-cold Royals' offense anything could happen. Update: It looks like it's Mike Wright.

Danny Duffy's return to the rotation hasn't been without hiccups. While he has still yet to stretch his pitch count out to that of a proper starter's, he has certainly given them more innings than the Duffy of old could have been expected to do. That is in large part because he has kept his walk rate down to abnormal (for him) levels. His 4.2 BB% has allowed for him to maintain a whopping 22.2 K-BB%. That's 13.9% improvement over last year's 8.3% mark. Some of that will likely go away as he pitches more and more as a starter, but his uncharacteristically low walk rate is certainly an encouraging sign.

Game Two - Tuesday, 6:05 PM CDT

Yordano Ventura 11 61.2 41 35 4.82 5.28 5.67 5.58
Ubaldo Jimenez 11 57.1 48 32 6.59 4.59 4.61 4.81

To date, Jimenez has basically put together two good starts and nine middling-to-terrible ones. His 17.6 K% is his lowest mark since his abysmal 2012 mark in Cleveland, the year in which everyone wondered what had happened to a once-promising Cy Young Award candidate. He reestablished his value in 2012 somewhat, but it's been a long time since he was a 5+ WAR pitcher. Still, his struggles this season have come in nearly every area of his game. His strand rate is an awful 61.2%. His BABIP is a whopping .368 fueled by the highest hard contact rate (32.5%) of his career. Some of this may owe to an across the board drop in velocity of roughly 1 mph. He has moved a bit away from his two-seamer (down 12.3% in terms of usage), spreading those selected pitches mostly to his four-seamer and splitter, both of which have seen an uptick of implementation. His only pitch that has had a positive pitch value this season is his splitter, which probably speaks a lot to his general troubles. Whatever is going on, regression to the mean probably is not going to fix Jimenez by itself.

The Orioles probably need not worry about Ventura outpitching Jimenez, though, as Ventura has been mostly disastrous this season as well. Technically, his last start was one of his better ones on the season as he only allowed two runs, one of which was earned, but he still only struck out three in six innings. He's yet to strike out more than six in an outing, he's gone more than six innings just twice, and he's walked two or fewer just four times. The only thing that has saved him thus far has been that his contact rates have been relatively consistent with his levels last year. His line-drive rates have stayed low, and he is inducing more infield fly balls (15.2 IFFB%) than he ever has before, already surpassing last year's total of 10 (he's got 12) and just two shy of his previous best of 14. As IFFBs are virtually the same for a pitcher as a strikeout (a guaranteed out), it makes his paltry 41:35 K:BB look slightly less terrible.

Game Three - Wednesday, 6:05 PM CDT

Edinson Volquez 12 73.2 59 27 4.03 4.07 4.24 4.35
Chris Tillman 12 70.1 66 29 3.33 4.23 4.25 4.21

Riding career-best K-rates, Tillman has relied increasingly on his hybrid slider/cutter. It's clearly worked, as it has been his most valuable pitch. His 23.1 K% is 2.1% better than any previous mark. His 8.45 K/9 is 0.54 better than any other season. Sure, his walk rate is up, but his 13.1 K-BB% still matches that of his next best strikeout season. That isn't to say that he hasn't outperformed his peripherals and that regression to the mean couldn't bite him, but in a rotation that has consisted of three shaky turns out of five for the bulk of the season, Tillman's return to viability and mid-rotation form certainly helps a rotation that is rather lacking in depth.

It didn't take long for Volquez to fall back to earth after flying to close to the sun in his first four starts of the season. Since his disastrous start in Anaheim, Volquez has been the mixed bag that most would have expected when he was signed. He can still spin a nice start in there, particularly against a lesser team like Atlanta or Minnesota, but he hasn't gotten the same degree of help from the defense behind him that he enjoyed last year, which has largely contributed to his 4.00+ ERA.

The Batsmen

Adam Jones CF 212 8 27 29 0 .242 .297 .407 .305 87
Hyun Soo Kim LF 77 1 9 3 0 .382 .455 .500 .417 164
Manny Machado SS 244 14 39 35 0 .311 .377 .598 .405 156
Chris Davis 1B 233 11 40 29 0 .213 .335 .431 .335 108
Mark Trumbo RF 230 18 34 43 1 .296 .348 .601 .401 153
Matt Wieters C 145 4 12 22 1 .281 .324 .422 .323 100
Pedro Alvarez DH 136 5 9 16 1 .217 .301 .408 .306 88
Jonathan Schoop 2B 206 8 22 31 1 .264 .291 .452 .317 96
Ryan Flaherty 3B 87 0 8 4 1 .200 .299 .227 .242 44
Francisco Pena C 4 1 2 2 0 .500 .500 1.250 .730 379
Joey Rickard OF 197 4 23 11 3 .247 .306 .354 .291 78
Paul Janish IF 19 0 1 0 0 .118 .211 .176 .185 5
Nolan Reimold OF 88 4 13 10 1 .296 .341 .519 .365 128

Stats through Saturday, June 4

The Orioles' offense has managed to stay in the top six in the league in wRC+ despite not getting the type of production they would have expected out of Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, and Chris Davis. Obviously a lot of the credit for the Orioles' offense being near the top of the heap should go to Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo. Such production should be expected of Machado, of course, but Trumbo's ridiculous first two months are an unexpected boon.

The Orioles have also started to give more playing time to the man they wished was not wearing their uniform coming out of Spring Training. Two months ago, they were exploring the ways they could get rid of Hyun Soo Kim. He went from persona non grata to batting second in the lineup and the predominant starter in left field.

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