To be brutally honest, not even the most fervent Baltimore Orioles fans would have told you that their team would be competing toe-to-toe with the New York Yankees for a playoff spot with two thirds of the season on the books. Yet, here we are, and the Bombers, who were at .500 (21-21) before last night’s game, will face the birds in a crucial four-game series at Yankee Stadium.
Baltimore started Wednesday at 20-21, only half a game behind the Yankees. Before taking the field to play the Toronto Blue Jays in the series finale last night, the Yankees had lost five straight and were in a 5-15 skid in their last 20 games.
Yet, the Bombers’ destiny is still in their own hands despite the incredibly disappointing season to this point. They still have several games to play against the O’s and the Jays, but they need to string some victories to get out of their recent rut.
General manager Brian Cashman felt the need to intervene and had a pep talk with the squad this week, emphasizing that he still believes in the team despite the recent cold streak. We probably don’t have the stomach for the Yankees not to make this year’s playoffs, but it remains a possibility if they don’t start winning. Soon.
Thursday: Keegan Akin vs. Gerrit Cole
In four games, two of which have been starts, the 25-year-old Akin has a shiny 2.08 ERA, but a much more realistic 3.70 FIP in 13.0 innings. The rookie lefty has some strikeout potential, as he has 15 so far. He actually out-pitched Gerrit Cole the last time out and will look to do the same today.
Cole has allowed at least one homer in each of his nine starts so far this season. However, he was much better in his last turn about these same Orioles, pitching six innings and allowing five runs, but only one earned. He also struck out ten, and will look to keep righting the ship: for the season, he has a 3.63 ERA that we know can be much lower.
Friday: TBD vs. Masahiro Tanaka
The Orioles haven’t announced their rotation past Thursday, but chances are that Alex Cobb rejoins the team from the injured list so that rookie Dean Kremer can stay on schedule and take the ball on Saturday. Cobb has been a serviceable innings eater for Baltimore this year, with a 4.33 ERA in 35.1 frames and seven starts. When he is on, his breaking ball can be very difficult to hit.
For the Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka will take the ball on Friday. He lost to these Orioles on the weekend, allowing four runs (two earned) in 5.1 innings. He has been fairly solid on the season as a whole, with a 3.38 ERA and a 3.94 FIP in 32.0 frames.
Saturday: TBD vs. Jordan Montgomery
If he sticks to his schedule, Orioles manager Brandon Hyde will send rookie Dean Kremer to the hill on Saturday. One of the prospects that the birds got in the Manny Machado trade, Kremer stymied the Yankees in his first career start, conceding just a single to Miguel Andújar; plus one run. He relies more on location than pure stuff to strike out hitters, but he has very good command of his arsenal.
Montgomery (5.72 ERA, 4.68 FIP in 28.1 innings) hasn’t been pitching well as of late. In his last start, against Toronto, he allowed eight baserunners in only 3.1 innings, and was lucky to escape with only two earned runs. In the turn before that, he was shelled for four runs and nine hits in 0.2 frames. He will need to give the Yankees some length on Saturday for them to have a chance.
Sunday: TBD vs. J.A. Happ
John Means, the likely starter for Sunday, showed his best version against the New York Mets on Tuesday, holding them to one run in six frames with five strikeouts. The lefty has had a rocky season so far, with a 6.58 ERA in 26 innings, but has managed to increase his fastball velocity and may be hitting his stride just in time for the O’s to make a playoff push.
For all the issues that Happ has had in his Yankees tenure, he has been pitching very well recently. In his last four starts, he has a 2.59 ERA, an 8.14 K/9 and a very low 1.85 BB/9. It’s a small sample, but another outing like the one he had against Toronto in his last turn (6.1 innings, two runs, ten strikeouts) could be very big for a team that badly needs its starters to keep it in the game.