Texas Rangers ALDS Opponent Preview: Baltimore Orioles
As we draw closer to the American League Division series, we first need to find out who the Texas Rangers ALDS opponent will be. I will give a brief preview of the Wild Card Game and focus on the Baltimore Orioles. Later this afternoon we will have the Blue Jays side of things.
Brief American League Wild Card Preview:
Baltimore Orioles at Toronto Blue Jays, 8 p.m. EST Tuesday, October 4th
The season series ended with the Blue Jays winners in 10-of-19. Just last week, the Orioles took two-of-three in Toronto during the heated final week of the Wild Card race. The Orioles had to decide between Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez as their Wild Card starting pitcher. The Blue Jays mulled over whether to trot out Marcus Stroman or start recently acquired Francisco Liriano. Each of these teams had an interesting choice to make — do the ballclubs run out the presumed “better” starters in Tillman and Stroman, or do they ride the hot hands of Jimenez and Liriano for the winner-take-all match-up?
However, it was announced Monday that the Orioles and Blue Jays would roll with Tillman and Stroman. The numbers show that fans can expect the managers to have a short leash on the starters with other options in their back pocket.
Tillman has pitched to a respectable 3.77 ERA this season. After getting off to a torrid start, he has struggled since returning to the rotation from a minor shoulder injury suffered late in the season (4.54 ERA in September). Tillman did pitch well last week in Toronto (5.2 IP, 1 ER), making him the current favorite for the Wild Card start.
But what if Buck Showalter goes off-script, as he is known to do from time to time?
Since returning to the rotation in late August after making a mechanical tweak, Ubaldo Jimenez has worked to a 2.45 ERA and 0.86 WHIP over seven starts. He threw 6.2 IP of shutout ball in Toronto last week. If given a choice, I would start Tillman but have a short leash on him. Baltimore boasts one of the best bullpens in the major leagues and Buck will not be afraid to pull a starter at first sign of trouble. We will discuss why this is the case with the Orioles bullpen a bit later in the article.
As for the Blue Jays, Marcus Stroman seems like the obvious answer on the surface. He was good for the Jays in the 2015 postseason, pitching to a 3.46 ERA in the ALDS against the Texas Rangers. Stroman has also posted a 4.37 ERA over 204 IP in 2016.
However, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) of 3.71 suggests that he was a bit unlucky in 2016. Stroman is an extreme ground-ball pitcher, inducing 60.1 percent ground balls — highest in the majors among qualified starters. This contrasts significantly with the Orioles lineup, a predominantly fly-ball hitting team.
Stroman against the Orioles sets up as an interesting case study on the two styles clashing. The other option here is Liriano, acquired by the Jays on August 1st to bolster their rotation. Liriano struggled with the Pirates in 2016, posting a 5.46 ERA and 1.62 WHIP over 21 starts in 113.2 IP.
Since being acquired by the Jays, however, Liriano has been spectacular in 49.1 IP. He has posted a 2.92 ERA with a much-improved 1.17 WHIP, lowest of his career. Interestingly, the Orioles have been terrible against LHP in 2016 — hitting an abysmal .234, good for 2nd lowest in the major leagues (behind the Dodgers, whom the Giants acquired Matt Moore and Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline specifically for this reason).
I will not hazard a guess as to who will win the American League Wild Card game on Tuesday night, but the manager’s choice of starters and how long to stick with them will factor into the outcome. Again, like a sudden death game, expect the managers to have quick hooks for Tillman and Stroman if they struggle early, and look to Jimenez and Liriano to bridge the teams towards their late-inning bullpen weapons.
IF THE ORIOLES WIN THE WILD CARD GAME, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE RANGERS?
To understand what Baltimore winning the Wild Card game means to the Rangers, we must delve into the sections of the Orioles’ roster, and point out a few keys to the potential match-up. Living in the Washington, D.C. area, I have watched this Orioles team throughout the 2016 season. Here are my thoughts:
This is unannounced, but I expect the Orioles’ rotation to be comprised of the following (in order):
- Game 1: Ubaldo Jimenez: 2016 statistics (5.44 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 7.90 K/9, 4.55 BB/9)
- Game 2: Kevin Gausman: 2016 statistics (3.61 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 8.72 K/9, 2.35 BB/9)
- Game 3: Chris Tillman: 2016 statistics (3.77 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.33 K/9, 3.45 BB/9)
- Game 4: Wade Miley: 2016 statistics (5.37 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 7.43 K/9, 2.66 BB/9) or Dylan Bundy: 2016 statistics (4.02 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.53 K/9, 3.45 BB/9)
- Game 5: Gausman or Tillman
The fact that the Orioles have made the postseason with this collection of starters is a testament to Buck Showalter’s managerial chops. Showalter has done a fantastic job all season of riding pitchers when they have been on and backing off at signs of trouble. Expect Jimenez to pitch in game one, as Gausman will only be on three days rest at that point because he threw on Sunday afternoon.
Gausman is the gem of this bunch, despite not having a quality breaking ball. He does throw an excellent change-up, however, a pitch that has routinely given the Rangers fits over the past several years. He pitched a fantastic game in Baltimore against the Rangers and Cole Hamels in early August, earning a win over seven strong innings with seven K’s.
The biggest concern among Rangers fans going into the postseason is the effectiveness of the third and fourth starters. As you can see above, with Tillman likely pitching the WC game, this prevents him from slotting into the rotation until game three at home, probably opposed by Colby Lewis. The downside of the rotation playing out this way for Baltimore is that Tillman will only be able to pitch once in the series. Also, Tillman has been much worse pitching at home in 2016 (4.61 home ERA, 2.97 road ERA).
It will be interesting to see how Baltimore uses their starters in games four and five, if necessary, depending on where the series stands and how pitchers perform early in the series. This is something to watch. As far as the team rotations are concerned, the Texas Rangers should have the advantage in every game of this series.
- Zach Britton: 2016 statistics (0.54 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 9.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9)
- Brad Brach: 2016 statistics (2.05 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 10.5 K/9, 2.8 BB/9)
- Darren O’Day: 2016 statistics (3.77 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 3.8 BB/9)
- Mychal Givens: 2016 statistics (3.13 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 11.6 K/9, 4.3 BB/9)
- Donnie Hart: 2016 statistics (0.49 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9)
- Wade Miley: 2016 statistics (5.37 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 7.43 K/9, 2.66 BB/9) or Dylan Bundy: 2016 statistics (4.02 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 8.53 K/9, 3.45 BB/9)
- Yovani Gallardo: 2016 statistics (5.42 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 4.7 BB/9)
- Vance Worley: 2016 statistics (3.53 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9)
Zach Britton is the best reliever in baseball. His hard and heavy sinker should remind Rangers fans of Sam Dyson, except Britton’s is much nastier and from the left side. Britton has a K/9 rate over nine, and an ERA of 0.54. He is in the Cy Young Award discussion, depending on how you value relievers and converted 47-of-47 save opportunities.
Simply put, the Orioles would not be a Wild Card team if they employed an average closer during the 2016 season.
O’Day has recently returned from an injury that sapped much of his 2016 season but is a force when healthy and especially devastating on RHB. He will be deployed by Buck often in this series, likely to try and mitigate Texas’ big right-handed bats. Brad Brach was an All-Star in 2016, but his overall numbers for the season shroud a second half in which Brach struggled:
Brad Brach First Half: 6 RA in 49 IP
Brad Brach Second Half: 15 RA in 29 IP
Despite the numbers, he carries an elite strikeout rate and an excellent breaking ball. He compares highly to the other set-up righty in the Baltimore pen, Mychal Givens. The difference being that Givens has been outstanding in the second half – posting a 0.77 ERA in September. Hart is a 26-year-old rookie who has pitched only 22 games in the majors but will likely be relied upon by Showalter as a lefty-specialist. He has limited LHB to a .348 OPS this season.
Look for Buck to deploy Hart against Odor and other Rangers lefties in mid-to-late game situations in this series. If the Rangers can get to anyone in the long reliever category, the game script is in excellent condition for a Rangers win. Showalter may use electric-armed Bundy as a safety net to his group of starters. Bundy has shown flashes of dominance this season and could run hot in a game or two this series.
Orioles Key Bats
Manny Machado: 2016 statistics (.294/.343/.533/.876 splits, 37 HR, 96 RBI, 128 OPS+, 6.4 WAR)
Mark Trumbo: 2016 statistics (.256/.316/.533/.850 splits, 47 HR, 108 RBI, 120 OPS+, 2.2 WAR)
Adam Jones: 2016 statistics (.265/.310/.436/.746 splits, 29 HR, 83 RBI, 95 OPS+, 1.4 WAR)
Jonathan Schoop: 2016 statistics (.267/.298/.454/.752 splits, 25 HR, 82 RBI, 96 OPS+, 2.0 WAR)
Chris Davis: 2016 statistics (.221/.332/.459/.792 splits, 38 HR, 84 RBI, 107 OPS+, 2.8 WAR)
Hyun Soo Kim: 2016 statistics (.302/.382/.420/.801 splits)
Here lie the money-makers of the 2016 Baltimore Orioles. A lineup that will not run (unless Bourn earns a start), or take the extra base. This is a station-to-station mashing unit. It has been their key to success and their kryptonite in 2016.
Showalter will likely run team leader Adam Jones at lead-off despite his penchant for not walking or taking many pitches. He may use waiver-claim and the aging Michael Bourn at leadoff against RHP however. A move that will allow Showalter to slide everyone down a spot, as Bourn has played well in September. Look for rookie Hyun Soo Kim to be in the line-up, however, only against RHP. He has had an excellent year, even though he provides little in the power department and will not take an at-bat against a LHP. He does not need to hit for power because of the bashers who hit behind him in Machado, Davis, and Trumbo.
Keeping the top of the lineup hitters off the basepaths for the middle of this order will be vital to the Rangers keeping the Orioles line-up in check. The batting order is deep as well, rivaling the Red Sox and Rangers for deepest in the American League. Matt Wieters is a quality two-way catcher with pop, and Schoop is the Orioles’ version of Rougned Odor at second base — lots of pop with little plate discipline. Overall, the hitters are the overwhelming strength of this Orioles team, one that has carried them to the postseason along with help from an excellent bullpen.
Three Key Series Factors
- Jump on the Orioles starters.
The starting rotation is the glaring weakness of this Baltimore squad. Buck Showalter has mixed and matched the starters for most of the season. Buck has played the hot hands and extracted maximum value from the pieces he has. What a fantastic manager Buck is.
As mentioned above, the bullpen is spectacular late with shut down power arms at the back end. Where this Orioles team will struggle is when their starters cannot get through six innings and Buck is forced to deal from the middle of his deck. That is the soft underbelly of this Orioles team. If the Rangers can coax Buck into using Worley, Miley or Gallardo, that will mean a positive game script for Texas and a high likelihood of coming out on top.
What happened to the Rangers in Baltimore in early August is not the scenario to envision. Texas allowed starters to work deep into games, which let Showalter use only his blue-chip relievers to shut down the Rangers bats. The Texas hitters must be patient and work counts. If they can get the Orioles starters’ pitch count high early in the game, they have a chance to succeed. Many of the Orioles starters struggle as the game progresses.
- Limit the baserunners – bombs will happen.
The Orioles led all of Major League Baseball with 253 bombs. For comparison, the Rangers were 7th with 215 dingers. This is a massive number, as Toronto led all of baseball last season with 232. Despite this, the Orioles scored fewer runs than the Rangers during 2016 season.
From watching this team all season, the home runs are going to happen. The key to beating the Orioles is not to allow the home runs to put up crooked numbers. Many of the players are not patient hitters, so walks should not be given up often to the Baltimore batters. Finishing off innings will also be of utmost importance.
Last week against the Yankees, the Orioles put up a six-spot in the fifth inning. The final blow to the Yankees season came on a two-out, three-run jimmy jack by Schoop.
These are the type of hits that devastate a pitching staff, especially in the playoffs. Rangers pitchers must bear down with two outs and finish off innings. This Orioles lineup can blow up in an instant, and put a game out of reach quickly.
- First inning, and Shutdown Innings.
The Orioles pitching staff gave up 106 runs in the first inning in 2016, second only to the Braves. This is a significant number, and the Baltimore staff gave up first inning runs on the road at a very high clip.
This stat could bode well for early leads for the Rangers. However, it is one that their pitching staff must protect by delivering Shutdown Innings. If this is the case, the Rangers will be playing with a lead which is entirely foreign in 2016. However, having a lead will help the lineup avoid the Orioles stalwarts towards the end of games. Having and protecting early leads will also let Jeff Banister deploy his bullpen weapons according to plan.
As mentioned previously, the biggest weakness of the Orioles is the relief corps that are not their end-game weapons. Another weakness is early leads tend to push game script away from those options.
Leave any specific questions you may have in the comments and I will get to them! Thanks for reading.