The Cleveland Indians have started the second half on a roll, as they have gone 4-2 against the Twins and Royals, and subsequently won both of those series. The Indians now currently have the best record in the American League at 56-38 and aren’t showing any sign of slowing down. The Indians now head to Baltimore to play the Orioles in a three-game series at Camden yards. The O’s are currently 54-40 and trail the Boston Red Sox by a 1/2 game in the AL East. They just lost three out of four from the New York Yankees and gave up first place for the first time since June 4th. Even with that, though, the Orioles are a dangerous team and a team that the Indians could potentially face come October.
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The Orioles offense is led by their stud third baseman Manny Machado. Machado is currently batting .310 with 19 home runs and 54 runs batted in, and is an all-around talent, as he’s magnificent with the leather as well, as he has great range and an electric arm. The rest of the Orioles line-up is pretty one dimensional, but a powerful kind of one dimensional. The Orioles currently lead the major leagues with 142 team home runs, and that’s because almost everyone in their lineup can mash.
Mark Trumbo is currently tied for the league lead in home runs with 28, Chris “Crush Davis” has 22, Machado has 19, Adam Jones has 17, Jonathan Schoop has 16, and Pedro Alvarez has 11. And while the Orioles can hit with the best of them, they can also strike out with the best of them as well, as they have struck out 791 times, with Chris Davis leading the majors with 126 strikeouts. The Orioles go up to the plate looking to hit it out of the park every at-bat, which can be dangerous, as anyone in the line-up can change the game with one swing of the bat, but they also go down hacking a lot, which can be very beneficial to Indians pitching.
Speaking of pitching, let’s look at the Orioles’ pitching shall we. The Orioles staff is led by Ace Chris Tillman, who is having a career year thus far for the O’s. Tillman is 14-2 with a 3.18 ERA and currently leads the Orioles pitching staff with 118 strikeouts, and has provided stability at the front of the rotation for the Orioles. The rotation after him can be described as average at best, as after Tillman they currently have Yovani Gallardo (3-2, 5.69 ERA), Vance Worley (2-1, 3.16 ERA), Kevin Gausman (1-7, 4.05 ERA), and Dylan Bundy (2-2, 3.70 ERA). One notable name missing from this list is former Cleveland Indians Ubaldo Jimenez, who has not appeared in a game since giving up five runs in 1 1/3 innings against the Angels on July 8th. It appears that Jimenez has been sent to the depths of the Orioles bullpen, where he may never return.
The Orioles bullpen is actually one of their strengths and is one of the big reasons why they have enjoyed some success this year. The back-end of the O’s bullpen is one of the best in baseball, as it’s led by all-stars Zach Britton and Brad Brach.
Britton currently has a 0.66 ERA this year and has converted all 30 of his save chances this year. Brach is not far behind him, as he has a 0.86 ERA and 18 holds. The rest of their bullpen is solid as well, as O’s bullpen staple Darren O’Day is putting together another solid year, as he has a 3.15 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings, and Mychal Givens (7-1, 3.61 ERA) and Odrisamer Despaigne (0-1, 3.63 ERA) are not slouches either.
Despite all this, the Indians match up well with the Orioles. The Tribe will trot out Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.36 ERA), Josh Tomlin (10-2, 3.34), and Corey Kluber (9-8, 3.42) against the O’s and all of them can make batters swing and miss, something that the Orioles are very susceptible to. The only problem might be Josh Tomlin, who can become a victim of the long ball (1.8 HR/9 this year.)
The Orioles and Indians have already met this year, as the Orioles came to Cleveland in late May and took two out of three from the Tribe. Zach McAllister gave up a late Mark Trumbo homer that gave the O’s the first game of the series. The Indians stole six bases and Danny Salazar threw six strong innings to give the Indians the second game, and a Hyun Soo Kim homer in the seventh helped the Orioles win the final game of the series.
The key to beating the Orioles is to score first and keep them in the yard (or at least limit the number of times they leave it.) The Indians offense has made a habit of scoring first lately, and two reasons for that are Jason Kipnis and Tyler Naquin, who have been on first since the all-star break. Kip is currently batting .417 with two Home Runs in six games since the break, and Naquin has been even hotter, as he has been batting .412 with three home runs and seven RBI in five games.
Despite the Orioles recent struggles, the Indians could very well end up facing the Orioles in October, which would be a series that I think that the Indians would have the upper hand in. The Orioles are a team built for a wild card win, as they have a dominant starter (Tillman) power hitters who can change the game in one swing (Davis, Trumbo and pretty much everyone else in their line-up) and a dominant bullpen. But once you get to the rest of their rotation, it gets dicey. The Indians have the pitching and offensive consistency that can take you deep on the road into October, and that road may very well end up going through Baltimore.