Tonight we start a 3 game series with the Baltimore Orioles, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The O's have a 51-42 record, putting them 3rd in the AL East, 5.5 games back from the Red Sox and 6.0 games in front of us. They are 27-19 at home. They are 4-6 in July.
I sent off some questions to Stacey, manager of Camden Chat, SB's Orioles blog.
So how should we go about pitching to Chris Davis? Or would we be better off not to? How is he dealing with the idiot PED questions?
Not long ago I would have said that it didn't really matter what opposing pitchers did because Davis was so hot that he'd just go with whatever the pitcher gave him and take the pitch over any wall for a home run, down either line for a double, etc. And if a pitcher tried to pitch around him, well then he'd just walk. But since the calendar turned to July, Davis has turned back into a pumpkin. It's only been nine games, but in them he's hitting just .097/.222/.323. I don't expect it to last too long, it's mostly just a function of the fact that people don't actually play baseball as well as he's been playing most of the year, so he's normalizing. But it could last through the weekend, in which case I'd suggest to the Blue Jays pitchers that they mostly stick to pitches outside the zone because he's chasing.
As for PEDs, he of course has heard the whispers but has handled them with grace. From answering a kid on Twitter with a simple "No" when asked to telling reporters straight away that he's never taken them and that he hates that he has to answer that question because of what people in the past did. But those of us who have actually looked at Davis's career understand that power has never been his problem and it's only now that he's learned to be a better hitter that people notice that he looks like the Incredible Hulk.
Who has been your biggest surprise (other than Davis)?
It has to be Manny Machado. I expected him to be good, of course. But a 20-year-old big kid in his second season in the majors seems likely to have a regression period where he's still learning and trying to make adjustments against all of the veterans in the game. But not Manny. He has been stronger offensively than anyone could have predicted. He's walking less than 4% of the time but when you're on pace for nearly 70 doubles that's easy enough to overlook. And his power seems to be going up a tick of late as well, as he's hit two home runs in the last ten games after going over a month without one. And that's not even taking into account his defense. We all knew he'd be good at defense, but I don't know that anyone could have predicted what he could do at third base. He's at 21 defensive runs saved for the year, which is 10 more than the #2 guy in the American League. If you prefer Ultimate Zone Rating, he's also tops in the American League in that. Or, if you're the traditional sort that prefer the eye test, just watch him play for a bit. You will swoon.
Well the real answer is Matt Wieters, but since you mention him below I'll go with Jason Hammel. Nobody expected Hammel to be an ace when the Orioles traded for him last year, but his pitching last year was fantastic. It was all attributed to his increased use of the two-seam fastball, an adjustment that had baseball analysts, and not just those who write about the Orioles, saying that it was a sustainable change and not a fluke. Well, now it's looking like maybe it was, because he's hasn't been nearly the pitcher in 2013. He's striking out fewer batters, he's giving up a ton of home runs, he's been probably the worst pitcher in the rotation (at least, one who has stuck... RIP Jake Arrieta) and he came into the season expected to be the team's #1.
Every season I think this is the one that Matt Wieters will break out, but he is, at least offensively, putting up fairly JP Arencibia type numbers (.229/.289/.414). Will he one day be the player we expected, or is this him?
I don't know. Matt Wieters makes me sad. He's never going to be the offensive powerhouse that people predicted he'd be, that much is certain. I had come to terms with that by the end of last year and it really wasn't all that bad. I saw him as a above average bat at catcher and a fantastic defender, and that alone is worth a lot in baseball. But this season he just looks terrible. He's got some pop in his bat and he's capable of (but not great at) taking a walk, but that's about it. Will he bounce back to the level that he was at in 2011-2012? I don't see why not he couldn't. But the way he's not inspiring any confidence with how lost he looks at the plate, though. He's actually had a good week, so maybe he'll turn it around some? I will say this: Wieters has always been a second-half hitter. Maybe he'll turn it on after the All Star Game.
Jim Johnson has 30 saves already? You must have quite a bit of confidence in him. What should the Jays look for batting against him?
Are you mocking me? I feel like I'm being mocked. I thought Canadians were nice! Crap, am I going to get your community mad for generalizing about Canadians?
No, I don't have quite a bit of confidence in Jim Johnson. He's blown eight saves already this year and there are times when he just looks totally lost. He'll completely lose the strike zone for games on end. It's hard to watch. Even when he does convert the save he quite often doesn't look like the Jim Johnson that we've grown used to seeing over the past few years. There are games here and there where his sinker is working and the other team doesn't seem to have a chance, but it's not a given. If he comes into the game to get a save against the Blue Jays, you'll know right away which JJ you're getting. If the first guy gets on base there is likely a meltdown in the works.
Do you foresee any deadline deals coming?
The O's traded for Scott Feldman almost two weeks ago and I think that'll probably be it for them. Offensively they could use a DH (or a second baseman, but as long as Brian Roberts is healthy they won't touch that one), but it's more likely they call someone up to try and fill that void, maybe Cuban defector Henry Urrutia, who has been hot in the minors. They don't have the prospects to trade for an ace type pitcher for the rotation, so they'll stick with what they have.
Anything else we should know about the Orioles?
The offense was slumping the last time these two teams played each other, but it's been coming around since the O's got back home, so the games probably won't go the way they did in Toronto. I'm not good at predicting wins and losses, but I think it'll look different for sure.