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Series Preview: Cardinals at Orioles, August 8-10

Bird battles bird as the Cardinals go on the road to face off against the AL East leaders.

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Pensive Chris Davis wonders why his bat has betrayed him.
Pensive Chris Davis wonders why his bat has betrayed him.
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview

  • Justin Masterson and Chris Tillman face off tonight at 6:05 Central.
  • John Lackey takes on Ubaldo Jimenez, late of the disabled list, tomorrow at 3:05.
  • Lance Lynn vs. TBA (likely Kevin Gausman, possibly Bud Norris) Sunday at 12:35.

The Orioles

First in booze, first in shoes, and last in the American League. This was the familiar refrain used to describe the hapless St. Louis Browns for much of their existence. The Brownies moved on to the greener pastures of Baltimore many years ago and they are in last place no longer.

In fact, between the desiccated husk of the Yankees and the inexplicably woeful Red Sox, the Orioles are in excellent position to win the whole darned AL East for the first time since 1997. As of now they're up by 5 games on Toronto and 7-3 in their last 10. Outperforming their Pythag by 4 games doesn't hurt.

Their bats

Centerfielder Adam Jones is putting up Adam Jones-like numbers once again with a 116 wRC+ and 21 dingers. He even has his K% down a touch, although his BB% is down as well.

First baseman Chris Davis is very much not putting up Chris Davis-like numbers. At least not 2013 Chris Davis numbers. After terrorizing the league last season with a .286/.370/.634 line good for a 169 wRC+ and winning the home run title with 53 Crushes, his offensive production has disappeared. He suffered an oblique injury in April and might still be affected by it. His line is down to .196/.307/.389, 91 wRC+ and BABIP has not been his friend (.251). He's still getting the occasional ball out of the Yards with 18 home runs thus far.

With catcher Matt Wieters' best season to date cut short by Tommy John surgery, the Orioles have relied on the 1-2 punch of Nick Hundley and rookie Caleb Joseph to fill the gap. Neither of which is Matt Wieters. Joseph, who has been getting the bulk of playing time lately, is an excellent defender, throws out a lot of runners, and has been hitting a little more lately to boot.

Rookie Jonathan Schoop (pronounced Scope) has promising power for a second baseman, but hasn't shown it yet. He's having a tough rookie year, with a 61 wRC+ for his trouble. A free swinger with a high whiff rate.

Manny Machado has had... an odd season. Machado started the year on the disabled list recovering from reconstructive surgery to repair the damage done when he tore apart his left knee in the last week of 2013. (It was ugly.) In June he roused the ire of the Athletics, first by getting a little upset on this fairly innocuous tag at third by Josh Donaldson and then a couple of games later when he flung his bat down the third base line near Alberto Callaspo after getting nearly, but not quite, plunked twice by Fernando Abad. BUT he can still do this and this and THIS at the hot corner while putting up solid offense.

Nelson Cruz has been a nice pick-up for the Orioles, giving them some needed power. He's still a lousy outfielder, but he spares the Baltimore faithful from watching that about half the time by leaving his glove in his locker and becoming a "designated hitter". Weird. He looked like a possible MVP candidate in mid-June, but since June 12 his line has been a disappointing .204/.270/.360 with a .211 BABIP.

After several years of being a shortstop with some pop, J.J. Hardy's pop has fizzled. Yet while his ISO has cratered his BABIP is far higher than his career norm. Somehow he's still putting up decent (for a shortstop) offensive production with oddly different peripherals. His defense is actually kind of like our own Jhonny Peralta: good glove, good arm with not great range and not great speed that he compensates for with excellent positioning.

Their arms
The Orioles rotation has been pretty disappointing. As a whole, Orioles starters are 17th in ERA (3.92), 28th in FIP (4.41), and 29th in xFIP (4.30).

Friday's starter, Chris Tillman features a low-90s four-seamer, a knuckle curve, and a changeup. His fastball velo is down about 2 mph from 2012, his strikeouts are trending down and his walks are trending up.

Ubaldo Jimenez has been announced as the starter for Saturday's game. This will be his first appearance since going on the DL for a month due to a right ankle sprain. Before going on the shelf, Ubaldo hadn't been quite what the O's had in mind when they made him their big free agent signing this offseason. He's currently sporting a 4.52 ERA, 4.70 FIP, 4.40 xFIP line with a bad-even-for-him 5.42 BB/9.

Kevin Gausman owns a mid-90s fastball to go along with a slider that can be good, but is still a work in progress. He also throws what he calls a "split change", which often gets put in the split finger fastball bucket when identified.

Old friend Bud Norris escaped from the Astros last season and has settled into the O's rotation. #BudChuck is still a reliable if unspectacular innings eater, and is still mostly a mid-90s fastball plus slider guy.

The Cardinals will miss the Orioles' most effective starter and only starting lefty Wei-Yin Chen this series.

The Cardinals

With the lineup and rotation much more settled, the big question for the Cards going into this series will be who takes their hacks at designated hitter. It seems likely the outfield carousel will be utilized here to give Matt Holliday and possibly Oscar Taveras half days off at the half-position. One wonders when Matt Adams will get a breather now that Allen Craig has been sent east.

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