The 16-9 Baltimore Orioles come to Fenway Park for the weekend to play three games against the cellar-dwelling 11-13 Boston Red Sox. The Orioles are in second place in the American League East? And they are pitching well? Is this 1971?
Wei-Yin Chen (taking on Jon Lester on Friday night) has had a nice start to his American pitching career. Chen is 2-0 in four starts with a 2.22 ERA. His fastball (2-and 4-seam) sits around 90 MPH but he has dialed it up to 96 in Japan for the Chunichi Dragons. He has a decent slider and changeup. However, he’s only getting a 33.6% GB rate, with a resulting xFIP of 4.53 (I know, small sample size, but still). Perhaps the Red Sox can take advantage of that and get a couple of home runs off of Chen.
Jason Hammel (on the mound for Baltimore for Aaron Cook‘s Red Sox debut) has been a revelation for the Orioles. Hammel has a career ERA in the mid fours but in five starts in 2012 he has a sterling 1.97 ERA (against a 2.84 FIP, still pretty good). Hammel is throwing his slider more this year (24.4% of the time) and his curveball and changeup less, which could explain his success. Hammel’s success can also be attributed to keeping the ball on the ground, raising his ground ball rate to 61.2% so far in 2012, compared to the approximately 45% range he had in his career. Hammel’s .253 BABIP in 2012 indicates that his success is probably unsustainable, but if he continues to keep the ball down, who knows.
Tommy Hunter (against Clay Buchholz on Sunday afternoon) is having problems this year. His velocity is down across the board, from a career-high 92.1 MPH average fastball in 2011 to 89.8 MPH in 2012. Hunter has also lost 2.5 MPH off of his slider and 1.4 MPH off of his curve. Hunter is also the victim of a bad combination for pitchers: he’s giving up too many homers (eight in five starts) and if it weren’t for his defense he would be pitching even worse than he is (6.34 FIP versus a 4.26 ERA and a .245 BABIP). Free-swinging against Hunter should be the order of the day.
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
Matt Wieters is finally living up to his promise, hitting .303/.391/.618, a .432 wOBA and 177 wRC, with 7 homers and 17 RBI. Also off to good starts are Adam Jones (.316/.362/.582) and Chris Davis (.316/.368/.595) Robert (insert swear here) Andino’s good start (.342/.388/.443) looks unsustainable with a .433 (!) BABIP. The slow starters are Nick Johnson (.086/.179/.143), Mark Reynolds (.136/.260/.197) and Endy Chavez (.109/.163/.130) with a .119 wOBA and a disastrous -39 wRC.
The O’s bullpen has been atypically strong, led by Matt Lindstrom, Luis Ayala and closer Jim Johnson, all sporting the Blutarsky ERA. As a reminder of days gone by, Kevin Gregg stinks on ice, with a 7.94 ERA and a 7.55 FIP.
LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (partially torn ligament in his left elbow) is on the 60-day DL and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Players on the 15-day DL are C Taylor Teagarden (lower back stiffness), 2B Brian Roberts (concussion) and LHP Zach Britton (left shoulder impingement). LF Nolan Reimold is day-to-day with a bulging disc in his back.
AND WHAT ABOUT THE RED SOX?
The Sox only could take one of three against Oakland, Kevin Youkilis is on the DL with a bad back and Josh Beckett will miss a start with lat stiffness. That’s the bad news. The good news is that Will Middlebrooks had a very good debut and there is pitching help on the way in the form of Aaron Cook, who will start on Saturday. The Red Sox bullpen wasn’t at its best against the Athletics but at least it doesn’t look like the disaster it did in the beginning of the year. Adrian Gonzalez has hit a cold streak (hitless in his last 17 at bats) but David Ortiz is scorching hot, hitting .391/.441/.707.
Yes, it’s surprising to see a winning baseball team from Charm City. Yes, it’s surprising that the Orioles are pitching well. But can they keep it up? (That’s what she said.)