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Surprisingly okay: Phillies vs. Orioles series preview

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The Orioles haven’t been as bad as most predicted

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals
The Orioles may be better than expected, but Chris Davis has not been
Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Most people expected the Orioles to be awful this season. They were awful in 2019, and they didn’t have the type of offseason that implied that the team was ready to make a big jump. But instead of being awful, they have been downright mediocre, checking in with a 7-7 record. Not saying they should be planning parade routes or anything (assuming we could ever have parades again), but these guys were deemed serious contenders for the “worst team in baseball” title when the season began.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 7-7

Manager: Brandon Hyde

The last time they met

The 2018 Phillies had some problems, but beating the Orioles was not one of them. They played a four-game home-and-home series, and the Phillies came out ahead in all four games.

The constant

Despite a strong effort to define value in a single statistic, measuring a baseball player’s value remains a very subjective exercise. But when contract length and value are factored in, I think a very strong consensus could be reached that Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is the least valuable player in baseball.

Phillies’ fans are rightfully a little down on Rhys Hoskins right now, but imagine if Hoskins didn’t walk a lot, and had one of the most expensive deals in the sport. Davis has an OPS of .395, and fans are having trouble understanding how a guy who twice led the American League in home runs has become so awful.

So who’s good?

The Orioles currently rank second in the AL in OPS, and since Chris Davis is definitively not good, someone on the team must be doing well. New shortstop Jose Iglesias is leading the AL in doubles and has an on-base percentage over .400. Designated hitter Renato Nunez has five home runs, and the catching tandem of Pedro Severino and Chance Sisco has been excellent at the plate.

Is this kind of performance sustainable, or by season’s end, will Orioles fans look back wistfully at the first month of the season, and say, “Remember when the team was hitting well? That was fun while it lasted.” Most of the Orioles’ lineup are young, so there’s a decent chance that at least a couple of these guys are for real.

What about the pitching?

The 2019 Orioles weren’t a great offensive team by any means, but it was their pitching that really powered them to 108 losses. They featured one of the worst pitching staffs in recent history, and the bullpen might have made the Phillies’ current unit look competent in comparison.

So far, they’ve been...fine. Two years after signing what has thus far been a disastrous free agent contract, Alex Cobb is finally pitching well. Tommy Milone has been a huge improvement over the departed Dylan Bundy, and Asher Wojciechowski has somehow become a viable starter at age 31.

As for the bullpen, new relievers Cole Sulser and Travis Lakins have helped to un-dumpster fire that unit. (Both were waiver wire pickups, showing that it is possible for a general manager to find quality relievers.)

Beware the Marlins

The Phillies and Orioles share a common bond: A baffling inability to play well against the Miami Marlins. The Orioles are 0-4 against Miami this season. I wonder if the Orioles’ struggles came from a reluctance to get on base, and then spend extra time around a possibly infected Marlins player. They might have figured it was better to just make outs, take some losses, and get away from Team Typhoid as quickly as possible.

Prediction

I do believe the Orioles are playing over their heads a bit, and the starting pitching matchups would seem to favor the Phillies. But until the Phillies’ lineup can gain consistency, and the bullpen can stop being putrid, I can’t predict too much success for them. I’ll say the Phillies win two out of three, but I don’t feel that good about it.