Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, August 16, 2012 at 9:27 PM
Given the long, horrible run of the Baltimore Orioles in recent years, it’s stunning to be featuring them in our Showcase Series coverage this late in the 2012 Major League Baseball season. They begin a crucial three-game set with the Detroit Tigers Friday Night in Motown. There are big Wildcard ramifications given how these two teams rate in the battle to surge into the postseason. But, Orioles manager Buck Showalter keeps telling the press he’s more focused on catching the New York Yankees and winning the AL East!
It’s easy to think, “Yeah, right Buck…good luck with that,” given the relative rosters. The Orioles are within striking distance though if the Yankees keep running into injuries or otherwise take their foot off the gas.
We don’t think Baltimore is going to win the division. But, we didn’t think they’d be a serious playoff contender in mid-August either. Yet, here we are looking at the Orioles actually sitting on top of the Wildcard race…at least temporarily…pending this big series with the Tigers.
Now, the bad news for O’s fans. You’re going to be underdogs in all three games in Detroit! And, given how crowded the race is (Tampa Bay, Oakland, the LA Angels, plus Baltimore and Detroit all fighting for just two Wildcard openings), a bad weekend in Detroit could trigger the collapse that so many in the media and in the baseball world in general have been expecting.
Let’s look over the projected pitchers for this weekend set to see how things might play out. Then we’ll study the future schedules for each team to get a broader sense of the Wildcard race.
Baltimore: Hunter (4-7, 5.54 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)
Detroit: Verlander (12-7, 2.46 ERA, 0.99 WHIP)
Verlander is a big favorite at home over most any American League pitcher right now because he’s been so dominant this year. Here he gets to face a vulnerable opponent that’s likely to get hit pretty hard. Hunter hasn’t impressed this season…and has shown a tendency to allow big innings at bad times. Detroit will be a heavy market favorite. A Baltimore win would be an outright STEAL in this spot on the schedule, , particularly since Detroit had Thursday off while the Orioles were playing divisional rival Boston at home.
Detroit: Porcello (9-7, 4.68 ERA, 1.51 WHIP)
Porcello is normally a vulnerable spot in the rotation for the Tigers because of those poor ERA and WHIP numbers. Run support has helped him post a winning record anyway. But, he’s a guy that good teams can hit. Unfortunately, Baltimore doesn’t even know yet who their starter is going to be in this game as we go to press! And, it’s not like the O’s have great options for spot starts. They don’t really have a staff ace this year in terms of what that generally means. A half decent innings muncher for most teams would be an ace for the Orioles. The biggest strike against Baltimore as a real playoff threat is that they don’t have anything resembling playoff caliber pitching. We’ll be looking at the Over here once a pitcher is named because conditions should favor offense (particularly with no travel distractions for either team on a Saturday Night).
Baltimore: Chen (11-7, 3.70 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)
Detroit: Fister (7-7, 3.24 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)
Chen is the closest thing Baltimore has had to an ace in terms of the full season (Miguel Gonzalez has done well since joining the rotation but he’s not throwing in this series). To this point, Chen has managed to dodge the “the league will adjust to him quickly” concerns as he continues to throw quality innings. In this spot, he’s facing better quality though. Fister has the better ERA and WHIP, and has earned respect in pressure spots. Maybe Chen’s too new to the USA scene to feel pennant race pressure. Or, maybe he’s about to hit a wall in terms of trying to last a full season at this level of performance. Fister will be the favorite. We’ll think about either pitcher if the price gets out of whack in one direction or another. The texture of the series Friday and Saturday will also influence our thinking in terms of a potential Sunday pick.
AFTER THIS SERIES FOR BALTIMORE
Monday-Wednesday: at Texas
Friday-Sunday: vs. Toronto
Monday-Thursday vs. Chicago White Sox
Friday-Sunday: at NY Yankees
Wow…this is a brutal stretch for a team that’s behind the eight-ball when it comes to the schedule anyway. They have road games coming up against two likely divisional winners in the best league in baseball, as well as a four-game series at home against another team currently leading its division. Hey, if the O’s are still in the Wildcard race in two weeks…our hats off to them! Wouldn’t it be something if they were within striking distance of the Yanks in that weekend series coming up? For now, we see a young hustling team that’s about to run into a buzzsaw where their mediocre pitching is likely to be exposed.
AFTER THIS SERIES FOR DETROIT
Tuesday-Thursday: vs. Toronto
Friday-Sunday: vs. LA Angels
Tuesday-Thursday: at Kanas City
Friday-Sunday: vs. Chicago White Sox
A little bit easier. Toronto’s had so many injuries that they’re basically fielding a minor league team at the moment. Kansas City has struggled in recent weeks, but did play spoiler some in their home series with Oakland. Those won’t be laydowns for the Tigers…but it’s the easier of the two paths. That’s likely to hold true through September too…meaning Baltimore is going to have a lot of trouble posting a better record than Detroit when it’s all said and done.
Maybe a big weekend will change the dynamics in a meaningful way.
Other matchups we’re paying close attention to this weekend in MLB:
Tampa Bay at the LA Angels
Boston at the NY Yankees
LA Dodgers at Atlanta
Pittsburgh at St. Louis
The Red Sox/Yankees matchup is there because of the rivalry, and because we have such good sources with both teams. Any of the other four could have earned Showcase coverage this weekend because they ALL match Wildcard contenders battling for their lives. We ultimately chose Baltimore/Detroit because the Orioles were leading the race heading into Thursday Night, and because we hadn’t talked about them in awhile.
Don’t forget that game day releases go up a few hours before first pitch in the bases right here at this website. We have a big Friday Night in NFL Preseason football too. Check the home page of this website for big play bulletins. NETWORK is definitely looking at the Detroit/Baltimore game on FOX for serious play, amongst a few other possibilities.
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Back with you Saturday to begin a two-day series on the Pac 12. We’ve been running conference previews all summer long on weekends. Please check out the archives if you missed earlier reports. There’s still time to print them all out and get caught up. We’ll look at Oregon and Stanford in the North on Saturday, then potential BCS champion USC and the South on Sunday.
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