Matt Wieters (Photo: Samara Pearlstein)

After taking two of three from the Blue Jays in a quick road trip to Toronto, the Boston Red Sox (28-26) return home to Fenway Park to start a three-game series against the Baltimore Orioles (30-24). The injury bug has hit the Orioles, with Nick Markakis most notably added to the disabled list. Now is the time that we really find out whether or not the Orioles are for real.

STARTING PITCHERSJason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen and Brian Matusz

Jason Hammel (against Jon Lester in the opener) continues his success for the Orioles after moving to Baltimore from the Rockies. You can attribute this success to Hammel’s throwing more two-seam fastballs (37.8% in 2012 vs. 13.1% in 2011) and sliders (23.5% vs 17.0%), and reducing his four-seam fastball (25.4% vs. 47.4%) and changeup (3.9% vs. 10.5%). Hammel’s ERA of 3.06 compares somewhat favorably to his 3.54 FIP and his 3.25 SIERA. For a pitcher getting a lot of ground balls (53.8%), Hammel has given up 7 home runs this year, but his xFIP of 3.33 says that with his fly ball rate of 32.2%, 7 homers is just about right.

Wei-Yin Chen (versus Josh Beckett) is having a nice debut season in American baseball. Chen’s 3.75 ERA/4.12 fIP/4.50 xFIP will play well for a #3 or #4 pitcher in Major League Baseball. A little worrying for Chen is that he has a 36.8% ground ball rate and a 44.0% fly ball rate (yes, I am biased toward ground ball pitchers), which explains why Chen’s FIP is .75 runs over his ERA. I’ve seen worse, though.

Brian Matusz (facing Clay Buchholz on Thursday) has rebounded well from his disastrous 2011 season. Matusz set a Major League record for pitchers with 10 or more starts with a 10.69 ERA. Although unlucky in 2011 (his BABIP was an ugly .382, his FIP was 7.66 and his xFIP was 5.22), it seemed that Matusz never overcame the ribcage injury he suffered in April 2011. However, Matusz has recovered from his injury and is showing the promise that made him the fourth pick in the 2008 draft. Matusz has a 4.41 ERA/4.26 FIP/4.46 xFIP with a 4.31 SIERA. His fastball is back to the 90-91 range from the 88s he was throwing last year. A few more grounders (only 36% in 2012) and Matusz could still end up being a front-line pitcher.

EXPECTED LINEUP

1. Robert Andino, 2B
2. Wilson Betemit, LF
3. J.J. Hardy, SS
4. Adam Jones, CF
5. Matt Wieters, C
6. Mark Reynolds, 1B
7. Chris Davis, DH
8. Steven Pearce, RF
9. Steve Tolleson, 3B

WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT

In the last two weeks, the hot hitters for the O’s have been Adam Jones (.350/.413/.600, .433 wOBA, 176 wRC+), J.J. Hardy (.333/.378/.452, .364 wOBA, 128 wRC+) and Mark Reynolds (.318/.423/.545, .418 wOBA, 166 wRC+), while Chris Davis has chipped in with three homers. On the cold side in the last two weeks are Robert (&*^$#*&) Andino (.175/.267/.225, .242 wOBA, 44 wRC+), Wilson Betemit (.219/.333/.313, .295 wOBA, 81 wRC+) and Matt Wieters (.242/.350/.333, .311 wOBA, 92 wRC+).

The Orioles bullpen, which used to be where pitchers went to die, has been a strength this season. Darren O’Day (1.71 ERA/2.86 FIP/2.95 xFIP) Pedro Strop (1.32 ERA/3.49 FIP/3.59 xFIP) and closer Jim Johnson (0.78 ERA/3.71 FIP/3.39 xFIP) lead the way. However, note that Johnson’s BABIP of 1.69 as well as his FIP and xFIP compared to his ERA shows that Johnson is riding a wave of luck right into shore.

INJURIES

LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (Tommy John surgery) is out for the season. LHP Zach Britton (left shoulder impingement), 2B Brian Roberts (concussion) and C Taylor Teagarden (lower back) are on the 60-day DL. RHP Matt Lindstrom (partial ligament tear in middle finger), RF Nick Markakis (rght hamate bone fracture), RHP Stuart Pomeranz (left oblique injury) and LF Nolan Reimold (herniated disc) are on the 15-day DL.

AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?

In the past two weeks, Will Middlebrooks (.357/.379/.500, .382 wOBA, 139 wRC+), the refuse-to-walk Scott Podsednik (.370/.370/.556, .426 wOBA, 169 wRC+) and Ryan Sweeney (.318/.375/.409, .346 wOBA, 114 wRC+) have hit well, while Nick Punto (.250/.280/.417, .322 wOBA, 97 wRC+) Marlon Byrd (.231/.286/.231, .238 wOBA, 40 wRC+) and Mike Aviles (.204/.200/.224, .189 wOBA, 6 wRC+) have been sitting on a block of ice. Six??? A 6 wRC+ for Aviles? Really???

On the mound, Clay Buchholz had a nice fortnight, garnering a 2.40 ERA/3.82 FIP/3.41 xFIP, with a 7.80 K/9 against a 1.80 BB/9. Keep it up, Clay! In the bullpen, Scott Atchison had a Blutarsky ERA in the last two weeks, while Vicente Padilla (2.45 ERA/2.20 FIP/3.75 xFIP) had a nice run. On the down side, Jon Lester’s 9.28 ERA in his last two starts is illusory, as he had a 5.45 FIP, a nice 3.00 xFIP, and an extremely unlucky .406 BABIP. Daniel Bard was terrible in the past two weeks. A 6.57 ERA “hides” his 9.83 FIP, 7.23 xFIP, 5.84 K/9 and a horrible 8.76 BB/9. And to top it all off, Bard’s .233 BABIP showed that he was lucky. It’s June and Bard hasn’t gotten the job done as a starter. This “experiment” has to end now.

SUMMARY

If the Orioles want to stay in the AL East race, they will need to get some improved hitting from other sources to make up for Nick Markakis. Otherwise, it could be another year in the second division for the Orioles.

Categories: Adam Jones Baltimore Orioles Boston Red Sox Brian Matusz Brian Roberts Chris Davis Clay Buchholz Daniel Bard Darren O'Day J.J. Hardy Jason Hammel Jim Johnson Jon Lester Josh Beckett Mark Reynolds Marlon Byrd Matt Lindstrom Matt Wieters Mike Aviles Nick Markakis Nick Punto Nolan Reimold Pedro Strop Robert Andino Scott Atchison Scott Podsednik Steve Tolleson Steven Pearce Stuart Pomeranz Ted Kennedy Toronto Blue Jays Tsuyoshi Wada Vicente Padilla Wei-Yin Chen Will Middlebrooks Wilson Betemit Zach Britton

Scott Candage is a long-time Red Sox fan. He recently came in third in the 127th annual Upperclass Twit of the Year competition. His best friend is a tree and he is a stockbroker in his spare time.

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