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Baltimore Orioles Series Preview: The best farm system in baseball is still the worst team

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The 19-game losing streak is over, but 100 losses is still just around the corner.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When the Baltimore Orioles visited the Royals after the All-Star break and took two of three, it was the start of a really nice beginning to the second half for a terrible team. On August 2, they won the series opener against the Yankees and had gone 10-6 to start the second half. Then they lost the next day, and the day after that and then 17 consecutive games after that to tie the 2005 Royals with 19 losses in a row. Since starting the second half 10-6, they’ve gone 5-25 and while they’re coming off the high of taking two of three from the Yankees, they remain one of the worst teams around and are in the argument for one of the worst teams of all-time with their record and run differential. They’re also 19-44 at home, which is by far the worst home record in all of baseball.

Offensively, their parts don’t seem that horrible. Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle are having solid seasons while Cedric Mullins is having a massive breakout season. They seem to have uncovered something in Ramon Urias as well, so while they’re not especially good offensively, ranking at the bottom of the American League in runs, home runs, stolen bases, OBP and SLG. I’m especially intrigued by Mullins who gave up switch hitting before the season and has been just fantastic for the Orioles this season. He’s a legitimate find. While the offense is bad, the pitching staff is just out of this world horrible. They walk too many, don’t strike out enough and give up tons of home runs. They have a couple of interesting arms and John Means is legitimately very good, but otherwise, they just don’t have much on their pitching staff.

Royals vs. Orioles Tale of the Tape

Category Royals Orioles
Category Royals Orioles
Winning % .449 .319
Team wRC+ 87 94
Team xFIP 4.48 4.80
Run Differential -91 -233
H2H Wins 1 2
Highest fWAR Nicky Lopez, 3.6 Cedric Mullins, 5.2

Orioles Projected Lineup

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Cedric Mullins CF 571 .305 .269 .530 8.2% 18.9% 145 5.2
Ryan Mountcastle DH 475 .266 .316 .494 6.7% 26.7% 117 1.5
Anthony Santander RF 370 .243 .290 .431 5.4% 23.5% 95 0.5
Trey Mancini 1B 543 .262 .328 .452 7.9% 23.0% 113 1.4
DJ Stewart LF 295 .205 .329 .378 14.2% 27.8% 99 0.5
Ramon Urias 3B 273 .273 .355 .413 9.2% 24.5% 115 1.7
Pedro Severino C 351 .236 .296 .384 8.0% 26.5% 85 0.0
Jahmai Jones 2B 36 .176 .222 .265 2.8% 36.1% 33 -0.2
Jorge Mateo SS 190 .256 .302 .398 4.2% 27.4% 92 0.6

Orioles Projected Bench

Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Player Pos PA AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wRC+ fWAR
Austin Wynns C 109 .179 .231 .277 6.4% 21.1% 39 -0.8
Kelvin Gutierrez 3B/1B 200 .207 .270 .266 6.0% 25.0% 50 -1.3
Austin Hays OF 420 .251 .297 .433 5.2% 20.5% 98 1.3
Ryan McKenna OF 132 .188 .300 .259 13.6% 35.6% 63 -0.2

Orioles Key Relievers

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP fWAR
Cole Sulser 50 51.1 4 3 31.4% 10.0% 2.98 3.51 1.1
Tanner Scott 60 52.2 5 4 29.0% 15.5% 3.93 4.04 0.6
Dillon Tate 51 55.2 0 6 18.5% 8.8% 4.69 4.44 0.4

Projected Starting Pitchers

Monday - Kris Bubic vs. Zac Lowther, 12:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Kris Bubic 24 99.1 4 6 20.8% 11.9% 5.16 4.71 -0.4
Zac Lowther 5 8.1 0 1 25.0% 9.1% 10.80 4.81 -0.1

The Orioles drafted Zac Lowther in the second round of the 2017 draft and he made his big league debut out of the bullpen on April 25, making single appearances in April, May and June and then two in July. His numbers are pretty horrible, but most of it came from one bad outing against the Red Sox in his lone big league start in May. He’s also been quite bad in the minors, though, so it’s hard to assume there’ll be much improvement. That said, he was excellent in the minors prior to this season, so he might be getting over that lost season. Lowther’s stuff isn’t amazing, but he gets a lot of deception from his delivery that hitters seem to have trouble squaring up. In the big leagues, he’s averaged a touch over 91 with his fastball and both that pitch and the changeup have been hit quite hard, though in a limited sample. Between the majors and the minors, he’s actually had a reverse platoon split with lefties hitting .339/.431/.571 and righties hitting just .259/.346/.378. It doesn’t really seem like he has what it takes to be an impact starter, but it’s a great chance for a team like the Orioles to find these things out.

Kris Bubic was scheduled to start during the White Sox but came out of the bullpen on Thursday in the last game of the series with the Indians and threw two innings. Mike Matheny mentioned that he wanted to start getting his pitchers ready for the type of situations they might face in a postseason. I think it’s probably more about limiting innings, which is why they went to a six-man rotation, but either way, the schedule is a little bit wonky for him. Bubic’s last start was in Seattle and he got rocked pretty hard early and just couldn’t command much of anything. He did settle down, but the damage was done. I’ll keep saying it until I can’t say it anymore, but velocity seems to be what matters for Bubic. If he’s throwing harder, he’ll be successful and if he isn’t, it’s hard to say. He did pitch well against the Orioles back in July, giving up one run on two hits in six innings. The Orioles surprisingly have a few players who have fared well against lefty changeups, so Bubic will need to be on.

Tuesday - Jackson Kowar vs. Alexander Wells, 6:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Jackson Kowar 4 11.0 0 2 14.5% 14.5% 9.82 6.26 0.0
Alexander Wells 6 18.2 1 2 16.1% 9.7% 7.71 5.73 0.1

Alexander Wells is an Australian lefty, who has been in the Orioles organization for a few years now and has steadily climbed through their farm system with success at pretty much every level. He isn’t going to wow anyone with his stuff as he hasn’t even struck hitters out in the minor leagues. He has shown exceptional control in the minors that has not yet carried over to the big leagues, but he’s generally limited walks extremely well. That’s pretty much the explanation for his success. His fastball sits in the upper-80s and tops out at maybe 92. His changeup is pretty low-spin. He’s had success with his slider in the big leagues, but not really with anything else in a limited sample. He manipulates the zone well, or at least has in the minors, but it’s just hard to see someone with his stuff profile find success in the big leagues. He’s handled lefties well, but righties have tagged him a bit, so the Royals will look to get after him with their right-handed bats.

Jackson Kowar came back from AAA and, like Daniel Lynch, found success in his first start back, going six innings and giving up two runs. He got lots of swings and misses. His fastball looked so much better. The new slider looked good. And that changeup was as good as advertised in the minor leagues. It was a really impressive first start back in the big leagues, and while the Orioles offense isn’t anything special, this is a park that can spook some pitchers, so I’m very curious to see how he responds to that. He hasn’t really pitched in a small park yet in his big league career, and I think it’s fair to think back on his first stint in the big leagues and worry a bit about how he’ll react if anything bad happens that’s likely stadium-related. Still, it’s exciting to see what he can do in his second start back to see if he can build on that.

Wednesday - Mike Minor vs. Matt Harvey, 6:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Mike Minor 27 152.2 8 12 22.6% 6.4% 5.25 4.32 2.0
Matt Harvey 27 123.1 6 14 16.6% 6.4% 6.28 4.83 1.6

You might remember Matt Harvey from such hits as giving up the lead in the World Series in the ninth in Game 5 in 2015. Or maybe you remember him from giving up 27 hits in 11.2 innings with the Royals last season. Or you might just remember him from throwing six shutout innings against the Royals in July. What you might not remember is that it was the first of three straight starts where he went at least six innings without giving up a single run. In six starts since then, he’s gone 29 innings and given up 21 runs on 33 hits with seven home runs allowed. I think there’s at least a chance that the Royals just happened to catch him at the worst possible time. He has a fastball, sinker, slider, curve and changeup and the only pitch that hasn’t been consistently smacked around is the changeup and that’s the pitch he throws the least. Righties have hit him better than lefties, but what I find most interesting about his splits is that he’s actually allowed a worse line when he’s even in the count than when he’s behind in the count even. There’s no guarantee that the Royals won’t help him find what they helped him find in July, but he isn’t pitching well right now at all.

Mike Minor continues to be hovering around average, but never really finding his way over that average line. In his last start, he gave up three runs in five innings and got hurt by the home run ball as he has been so many times this season. What Minor generally gives are innings. He’s gone six or more in 12 of 20 starts since mid-May. He’s walked more than two batters just twice in that span. So you’re likely to see Minor on the mound for a few innings without walking too many batters. But yes, he’s going to give up a home run. And while the television broadcast will harp on this endlessly, it really is often just the one bad inning for Minor, so if he can avoid that (and in the successful starts he has), he has a chance to be able to shut down this lineup. He has a 2.70 ERA in seven career games against the Orioles but hasn’t been quite as successful in Baltimore, which makes sense with all the home runs allowed.

Thursday - Carlos Hernandez vs. John Means, 6:05pm

Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Pitcher G IP W L K% BB% ERA xFIP WAR
Carlos Hernandez 21 70.2 5 1 23.7% 10.7% 3.57 4.49 1.0
John Means 21 119.1 5 6 22.9% 4.4% 3.47 4.40 2.0

The Gardner product John Means was having a really fantastic season before he went down with an injury that kept him out for about a month and a half. He, of course, threw a no-hitter on May 5 against the Mariners that was almost a perfect game if not for a batter reaching on a third strike. He was really good his next time out against the Mets, but since then, and surrounding the injury, hasn’t been nearly as good. He’s 1-6 with a 5.21 ERA in his last 13 starts with 19 home runs allowed in 67.1 innings. He hasn’t been able to maintain the velocity increase he had last season in the short 2020, but he’s still made a jump from the last full season and now averages about 93 MPH on his fastball. He also throws a changeup, a nasty curve and the occasional slider. His fastball has been where he’s found big trouble with a .552 SLG against that pitch. He’s also allowed 10 homers on his changeup. While he doesn’t have a huge platoon split overall, righties have hit 22 home runs against him and lefties have hit just two. He also only has 99 plate appearances against lefties, so teams have been stacking lineups. And he’s struggled at home with a 5.01 ERA compared to 2.48 on the road. He pitched twice against the Royals in 2019 and went 12 innings with a 3.00 ERA.

Carlos Hernandez has become truly must-watch. He had another outstanding outing on Friday night against the White Sox, going six innings and giving up two runs. He didn’t have the swing and miss stuff that we’d seen from him in his previous starts, but part of that was that the White Sox were swinging at just about anything in the zone. He made his first start of the year against the Orioles and while he wasn’t great, he flashed some of this ridiculous stuff that we’ve seen from him ever since. Since and including that game, he’s posted a 2.94 ERA in 49 innings with just 34 hits allowed. The Orioles as a team have a .190 average and .280 SLG on pitches 96+, so expect a heavy dose of hard stuff in this one.

Prediction

The Orioles can’t win at home and the Royals once went 2-18 on the road in a 20-game stretch. I’ve been burned by this team before, but I think the Orioles are bad enough that the Royals should win three of four. Still, that series after the break is concerning me, but I’m sticking with three of four.

Poll

Will the Royals avenge their July series loss to the Orioles?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Yes, in a big way. They’ll get the sweep and it’ll feel like the 2014 ALCS all over again...but with far worse teams.
    (19 votes)
  • 49%
    They’ll take the series, but the Orioles will squeak one out, surpassing their win total in the 2014 ALCS.
    (50 votes)
  • 26%
    It’ll be a split, which is decidedly not what happened in the 2014 ALCS that the Royals swept.
    (27 votes)
  • 2%
    The Orioles will take another regular season series from the Royals by winning three of four, which means far less than the 2014 sweep of the ALCS by the Royals.
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    The Orioles will sweep the series, dominate the season series but will still have missed out on the 2014 World Series after being swept by the Royals in the ALCS.
    (2 votes)
101 votes total Vote Now