It all started out so promising for Buck Showalter and his crew. After taking over for the beleaguered Orioles on August 3, 2010, Showalter guided the O’s to a 34-23 record over their final 57 games, and following several upgrades to the offense over the winter, the O’s looked to be on their way to perhaps finally posting a season that mattered. After kicking the season off with a 6-1 record, the preseason calls proclaiming that Baltimore was back were starting to look prophetic, but the team followed their promising start up by going on an 8-game losing streak which ultimately dropped them below .500 for good. 34 wins and 49 losses later, the O’s are once again in dead last in the AL East, and seem to have saved their worst baseball of the season for the current month.
The O’s have stumbled to a 6-17 record in July, although the offense, essentially hitting its season mark of 97 wRC+ at 96, isn’t really the culprit. Rather, Baltimore’s pitching staff has been brutal, with the worst ERA, FIP and xFIP in all of baseball during the month of July. Both the starters and the bullpen have managed 6.00-plus ERAs, which is no small feat in this era of suppressed offense. Zach Britton was utterly torched by the Red Sox on July 8, giving up seven earned runs on 2/3 of an inning, which resulted in a demotion to double A. Rotationmates Jeremy Guthrie, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta have all been varying degrees of terrible in July, and the only O’s starter that seems to be interested in pitching well of late is Alfredo Simon, who the Yankees won’t even see this weekend.
On the bright side, despite a collectively poor overall ERA, some of the individual components of the bullpen have thrown well this month, including trade bait Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson and Jason Berken.
On offense, the O’s’ attack in July has been paced by a resurgent Nick Markakis (122 wRC+) and Adam Jones (138 wRC+). Vlad Guerrero has also chipped in an above-average performance in the month of the July. On the season, Mark Reynolds, J.J. Hardy and Jones have been Baltimore’s two best hitters. As a unit, the O’s actually boast the sixth-best wOBA in the AL, at .320, though that number is partially inflated by the friendly hitting confines of their home park, as they only rank 8th in wRC+ (98).
In tonight’s opener of this four-game set, A.J. Burnett faces Jeremy Guthrie. Yankee fans are of course more than familiar with Guthrie, who has started 14 career games against the Bombers and boasts a 5.46 ERA for his troubles — by far his worst performance against any team he’s made five-plus career starts against. Guthrie’s having a pretty poor year — 4.40 ERA/4.40 FIP and it’s not like he’s been the victim of bad luck. His peripherals are bad and he’s not expected to pitch any better than he has (4.31 xFIP), and I’d expect the Yankees to have their way with him as usual. Even though A.J.’s technically been better than his abysmal 2010 season, it hasn’t really felt like he’s been all that much better, probably because his FIP is nearly the same (4.64 this year compared to 4.83 last year) and he hasn’t gotten through the sixth inning since July 4 at Cleveland. Still, A.J. should be able to keep the Birds in check; though he did give up four runs the last time he saw them.
In Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader, Bartolo Colon will take on the recently reinstated Zach Britton. As noted earlier, Britton’s rookie season hasn’t gone quite according to plan. He started out quite strongly but hit a rough patch in June and of course got demoted after that shellacking by the BoSox. To Britton’s credit, he did manage to pull a guy-the-Yankees-have-never-seen before in his first career start against them in May (7 IP, 0 ER), but hopefully now that the Yankees have seen him they can pull a Red Sox and drop 10 runs on the youngster. Colon has of course bounced back after back-to-back rough outings and appears to be back to the dominating Colon we’ve seen for much of the year. Last time Colon faced the O’s he absolutely crushed them; no reason not to expect more of the same this go-round.
Game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader features Ivan Nova (if healthy) or Adam Warren, who would be making his Major League debut, against an as yet-to-be announced pitcher. Seriously, this game is tomorrow and the O’s still haven’t announced who’s starting.
The Sunday afternoon finale finds Freddy Garcia battling Jake Arrieta. Arrieta’s having a pretty terrible season (5.12 ERA/5.29 FIP), though somehow he managed to mostly halt the unstoppable force that is the 2011 BoSock offense, recently limiting them to three runs over seven. He’s also had the Yankees’ number in his short career, holding them to 11 earned runs in 24.1 innings. I would love to see the Yankees finally break the whopping club out against Arrieta and polish off what should really be a four-game sweep.
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