Our Blue Jays start a 3 game series in Baltimore against the Orioles. The O's are 4-5, a half game back of the Jays (and Rays and Yankees) in a bunched up AL East.
I sent off a few questions to Stacey Folkemer, the brilliant and lovely (well, I'm guessing at the lovely part, I've haven't seen her, but let's go with lovely) manager of Camden Chat, SB Nation's Orioles blog. She was kind enough to answer them for us.
The AL East looks like it could be wide open this year. What do you think of the Orioles chances? Where do you see them finishing?
I wouldn't bet on the Orioles finishing any higher than third place this year. For them to climb higher than that they'll need a lot of things to go right (and so far it's not looking good in that department), including having at least one other A.L. East team underperform. Because of the nature of the A.L. East I could certainly see them dropping below third as well. I do, however, think that the win projections from FanGraphs (78) and Baseball Prospectus (74) are ridiculous. How's that for a non-answer? But I think third place is the safest bet.
The Orioles traded off Jim Johnson leave (seems like a very good decision, at the moment). How confident are you in Tommy Hunter as closer?
Trading Jim Johnson has been a very good decision, and while I thought they should trade him as far back as last year, it was solely to do with payroll, not his performance. I don't know what is going on with him. As for Tommy Hunter, I am not confident in him as a closer. He has been successful in all three save attempts this year, but two of them were frightening. I'm confident in his ability to be a successful member of the bullpen, but his numbers against lefties are so atrocious that I think any team that can throw a few lefties at him in the ninth inning will give him trouble. He's so bad against lefties that even Munenori Kawasaki can homer off of him.
Matt Wieters is off to a great start with the bat. Is this the season that he puts it all together?
Wieters does look great, but it's going to take a little more for me to start believing in his offense again. He's done this before, though. In April 2011 and 2012 he killed the ball but then came back down to earth. Although after 2013, I'd love to see his 2011-12 numbers again. One encouraging thing about Wieters so far is that he has looked patient against right-handed pitchers, who have long been his nemesis. Hopefully that trend will continue.
The left side of your infield is injured, how long till Machado and Hardy are back? How are their replacements doing?
Hardy hasn't been placed on the disabled list and they keep saying that he'll be back in the lineup "tomorrow." Well, we've had four tomorrows come and go with no sign of him. They are now saying he'll probably be ready to be in the lineup on Friday, but don't be surprised if he's not.
Machado is a whole other issue. Neither he nor the Orioles ever pretended like they would be rushing him back, because obviously his career is more important than 2014. He is doing a variety of activities down in Florida, most of which are not baseball related. They won't give a timetable for him, but my best guess is that the first of May seems like a good time, not factoring in any possible rehab assignment.
The Orioles infield, other than Chris Davis, has been like a game of musical chairs this season. When it became clear that Machado wouldn't be ready for Opening Day, they moved Ryan Flaherty from second base to third base and gave rookie Jonathan Schoop the job at second base. And when Hardy went down, they moved Flaherty to shortstop, Schoop to third, and plugged Steve Lombardozzi into second base. All three of those guys started the season looking completely clueless, but have gotten better over the past several days. Schoop started the year 2-for-18, but has gone 5-for-12 with a homer and two doubles since then. Flaherty was 1-for-12 before getting four hits over the last two games. Lombardozzi has been the best of the bunch so far with 9 singles, good for a .321/.321/.321 hitting line.
One thing is for sure, the Orioles really miss Machado's defense. There have been multiple plays on the year that got past the third baseman of the day that he surely would have a play on. That's true to a lesser extent at shortstop, where Flaherty has been a decent defensive replacement for Hardy.
Ubaldo Jimenez' first couple of starts weren't good (and I was hoping the Jays would sign him). What's going on with him?
So far this year, Jimenez just hasn't been able to locate his pitches. Against patient teams like the Red Sox and Yankees, that spelled doom. When he missed outside the zone they took, resulting in eight walks between the two games, and when he missed up inside the zone they hammered the ball. His velocity is also down from 2013 (which was down from 2011, which was down from 2010, etc.) I'm not much for identifying flaws in pitcher mechanics, but it's no secret that his are pretty complicated and he's just not able to keep it together so far. I'm trying to hold out hope, because four years is a long time to watch bad pitching.
Can you give us a quick scouting report on the starting pitchers who will face the Jays?
Friday -- Chris Tillman: I don't like to use the word ace about many pitchers, because it implies a level of success that few pitchers actually have. But there is no doubt that Tillman is the O's ace, regardless of where he'd fit in on other teams. In his first start of the year he appeared to get lucky as a number of fly balls almost went out of the park (and in warmer weather, would have). But he was straight up nasty against the Tigers in start #2, out pitching Justin Verlander and going into the 9th inning. Tillman is a fly ball pitcher, which at Camden Yards means that he's a home run pitcher. He's given up just two runs this season, both on home runs. His saving grace is that he doesn't usually walk many, so most of his home runs are of the solo variety. He's not a power pitcher, but he can dial up his FB to 95ish every now and then. His changeup and curveball are his two best pitches, so when they're on, he's on.
Saturday -- Bud Norris: Tillman was originally schedule to pitch this game, but when the angry baseball gods discovered I had tickets to the game they swapped him with Norris just to mess with me. Norris has made just one start this season, and it was terrible. He's the leading candidate to get sent to the bullpen when Kevin Gausman is ready to be promoted. Against right-handed batters, Norris is a pretty good pitcher. He holds righties to a respectable .315 OBP over his career. But it's against the lefties that Bud Norris finds his doom. Lefties hit .273/.35/.450 against Norris in his career, and it's ultimately what will drive him out of a starting rotation. I am already imagining the damage that Adam Lind and Melky Cabrera are going to do to him.
Sunday -- Ubaldo Jimenez: I've already said a lot about Ubaldo in question 5, and I honestly don't know what to expect on Sunday. I'm hoping he finds whatever fix he needs before then so that he can look more like 2013 Jimenez.
Who is your pick for team MVP?
It's tough to say this early in the season, but the pre-season favorite Chris Davis hasn't done much to earn my confidence. I think that Adam Jones is a fair guess. He's looked good at the plate and in the field (as good as he ever does, anyway), and his track record makes me confident that we know what we're getting with him. He's even taken three walks so far this year, which is like 10 walks for a normal player.