Orioles (48 G): 203 RS / 209 RA (10-6 one-run games)
Brewers (51 G): 199 RS / 187 RA (10-6 one-run games)
Looking at the Orioles’ batting order, one would expect the Baltimore bats to rank among the top American League offenses. Yet, due to injuries to key performers like Manny Machado and Chris Davis, and a home run outage by J.J. Hardy, the Orioles’ order is rather top heavy. Certainly, Nelson Cruz, Davis, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters provide a solid offensive core. But beyond those players, the Orioles have not been able to produce many runs.
Orioles: Series Tie vs. Indians
Brewers: Series victory @ Miami
Suddenly, the Brewers bats are surging. Our Milwaukee Nine scored the most runs of any May series during their trip to Miami. In fact, their 17 RS over three games is the most runs scored in one series since the Brewers scored 16 runs at Pittsburgh in April. After scoring 25 runs from May 11 through May 20, the Brewers reached 27 runs over their last five games. At Miller Park, the Brewers’ most productive series occurred against the Diamondbacks, when Milwaukee scored 15 runs. It will be interesting to see if the Brewers can beat that mark at home with a suddenly hot offense.
2013 Orioles: 85-77 (745 RS / 709 RA)
2013 Brewers: 74-88 (640 RS / 687 RA)
2011-2013 Orioles: 247-239 (2165 RS / 2274 RA)
2011-2013 Brewers: 253-233 (2137 RS / 2058 RA)
If anyone is skeptical about the 2014 Brewers’ ability to continue their winning pace, one only need to look at what the 2012 Orioles accomplished with a couple of surging months and an excellent bullpen. Those Orioles turned a 712 RS / 705 RA performance into 93 wins, which was a 13% increase beyond their expected wins. It is worth remembering that teams do not always need to be great to win a lot of games, or compete for a playoff spot.
Chris Tillman (1-1, 25.7 IP, 17 R (17 K / 14 BB / 2 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Kyle Lohse (2-0, 33.3 IP, 12 R (23 K / 3 BB / 5 HR), 5 quality starts in last 5 GS)
After working several partial seasons, Chris Tillman broke out in the Orioles rotation last year. The righty is another potential organizational pillar from the Orioles’ Erik Bedard trade, as Tillman can join Adam Jones in adding strength up the middle for the Baltimore Nine. Lately, Tillman has been a study in contrasts; after pitching his first career shutout at Kansas City, the Pirates did not let him record four outs in his May 21 start in Pittsburgh. Although eight runs in 10 IP looks bad, a CG-SHO arguably speaks louder than a one inning slugfest. I
n his complete game, Tillman relieved heavily on his fastball, which was slower than usual. It did not matter, as Tillman also selected his change and slider equally, while favoring his curve as his top breaking pitch. When the Pirates cuffed around Tillman, the righty was still trying to establish his fastball, and his change was his most prominent offspeed pitch. These trends match the righty’s seasonal preferences, as Tillman will be equally likely to select his curve and change when he needs to go off speed. Against four home starts in 2014, Tillman will make his seventh road start at Miller Park.
Kyle Lohse has also been a road warrior for the Brewers, but this start will help him even the gap between home and road starts. If you’re going to Miller Park for some Memorial Day baseball, chances are you’ll see between 55 and 60 offspeed pitches (if Lohse throws 100). Lately, Lohse has hammered batters with his slider, selecting it more than any other pitch (including his sinker and fastball). Oddly enough, Lohse went against the grain of his recent slider selections in Atlanta, when he pounded Braves batters with 50 riding, sinking fastballs. Still, the slider was his go-to offspeed pitch. Lohse will need his off-speed pitches working to neutralize the powerful Orioles bats, although one wonders whether his success in Atlanta will convince him to favor his fastball once more.
Wei-Yin Chen (2-1, 31 IP, 13 R (17 K / 5 BB / 3 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Matt Garza (1-2, 27.3 IP, 18 R (21 K / 14 BB / 2 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
Wei-Yin Chen was arguably at his best during his 2012 rookie season, as the southpaw selected his slider as his favorite off-speed pitch. Chen established a fastball between 91 and 92 MPH that year, and has thrown the pitch harder and slightly less frequently in his additional seasons. As Chen throws the fastball harder, he favors his splitter over his slider as the top off-speed pitch. Despite these developments, his strike outs have fallen by more than 20% in 2014, which his overall rate of hits allowed increased 25%. According to Brooks Baseball, Chen’s line drive rate on his fastball has increased significantly, and he’s also allowing more line drives on his splitter. Since these two offerings comprise more than 2/3 of his pitches, Chen must adjust and limit the damage to combat his declining strike outs. If the answer his his slider, he is not showing that with his pitch selections.
Matt Garza is due for a nice, easy start one of these days. Lately, his starts have provided a stage for communications breakdowns, rough first innings, and struggling, all guts recoveries. In Atlanta, Garza simplified his approach, relying almost entirely on his fastball and slider (save for three curves, according to Brooks Baseball). Heading home, Garza can use this basic approach as a foundation for approaching the Orioles.
Bud Norris (2-2, 32 IP, 12 R (22 K / 11 BB / 3 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS) @ Yovani Gallardo (0-3, 27.3 IP, 18 R (18 K / 10 BB / 6 HR), 2 quality starts in last 5 GS)
Working on his sixth career season, Bud Norris is suddenly at his best performance level in his career. Even though the righty is striking out fewer batters, he’s making up for that by limiting walks, maintaining a steady home run rate, and, suddenly, limiting hits. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if this is a development that continues for Norris. First, the righty has increased his groundball percentage, according to FanGraphs, which corrects his steady line drive rate. Limiting hits without limiting line drives can be difficult, however, so one might expect Norris to continually yield groundballs in order to sustain his strong ERA.
Although the Brewers optioned Jimmy Nelson back to Nashville following his strong spot start, starting Yovani Gallardo on Wednesday actually gave the club a chance to enter Nelson into the Brewers’ rotation, perhaps at the expense of Marco Estrada. It is obvious that the Brewers are using replacement starters only as needed, but by pushing Gallardo’s start to Wednesday, that would have given the Brewers an opportunity to place Estrada in the bullpen while keeping Nelson in the regular rotation. This would be an aggressive move to potentially improve the rotation.
Of course, Estrada is not pitching poorly — in fact, he’s a pretty solid arm four deep in a rotation. It is simply worth arguing that if the Brewers feel Nelson could perform better than Estrada, pushing Gallardo’s start to Wednesday would occupy Estrada’s rotation spot, and open a spot for Nelson in the Brewers’ rotation. Unfortunately, Brewers fans may only see Nelson again in the case of another injury (please, no, knock on wood) or after an extreme instance of ineffectiveness (also, please let this not be the case). At what point does a contending club use a replacement starter to potentially improve their club?
Follow Nicholas Zettel @spectivewax on Twitter for pure stathead indulgence.
BaseballProspectus. Prospectus Entertainment Ventures, LLC., 1996-2014.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC., 2000-2013.
MLB Advanced Media, LP., 2014.