Orioles vs. Pirates: Series Preview

There is an undeniable connection between the professional baseball teams of Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They have faced each other twice in the World Series (1971 and 1979), with the Pirates winning both times. And both clubs have endured similar periods of promise and nonsense, particularly over the past 30 years.

More recently, both franchises have embarked on (yet another) intentional rebuild. In November 2018, the Orioles hired Mike Elias of the Astros to oversee their efforts. Almost exactly a year later, the Pirates lured Ben Cherington away from the Blue Jays to make the decisions on their end.

Fast forward to 2022, and it’s the Orioles who are well on their way to reinvigorating a once-great team. If you read this site, you know very well what the Birds did well. So let’s talk about the Pirates instead.

Pittsburgh enters the weekend in third place in the NL Central, but that position is pretty flattering. Their record is 43-62 and their point differential is -150, the second-worst rating in baseball. It’s ugly, they’re just lucky to play in the worst division in baseball.

The biggest problem for the Pirates is their roster. They scored the fewest points in the NL and third in MLB, and that was with Daniel Vogelbach, who posted a 116 OPS+ before being traded to the Mets. The team’s greatest remaining offensive force is center fielder Bryan Reynolds, whom they managed to hold onto until the trade deadline. But even he saw a comeback after a career-best season in 2021.

Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz provide reason to be excited as Pirates fans. Hayes is an elite defenseman at third base, and his peripheral offensive numbers indicate that his stat sheet will eventually be much better than the .669 OPS he currently boasts. Cruz, 23, is a rookie and has expected growing pains (.202/.236/.393 in July), but he’s also a physical freak at 6-foot-7 who can run like a deer and has a cannon from the shortstop position.

There’s not as much interest in what happens on the mound, especially since they traded ace Jose Quintana. The bullpen might be a bit of a mess this series as David Bednar (and his 12.15 K/9 rate) just hit the IL with back inflammation this week.

Game 1: Friday, August 5, 7:05 p.m., MASN

RHP Dean Kremer (3-3, 3.86 ERA) vs. RHP Mitch Keller (3-7, 4.37 ERA)

July was tough for Dean Kremer. Batters attacked him at .934 OPS last month, and he’s served five homers after giving up just one in June. He cannot be allowed to face a formation for the third time. Over 10 starts, the batters are hitting .722 against him when faced for the third time. Hopefully a light start against the Pirates allows for a little wiggle room.

Mitch Keller likely steps into the “ace” hole vacated by Quintana, and his performance in July justifies it. He had a 2.61 ERA over five starts, each lasting at least six innings. The 26-year-old has been very good in his last four starts, in which he allowed five earned runs in 25 innings while striking out 21 and walking five.

Match 2: Saturday August 6, 5:05 p.m., MASN 2

RHP Austin Voth (1-1, 5.54 ERA) vs. RHP JT Brubaker (2-9, 4.40 ERA)

It defies logic, but Voth continues to come up with competitive outings for the Orioles. His ERA since joining the Birds is 2.84, his ERA+ is 134, and he strikes out nearly one batter per inning. He’s getting better too. His last outing was the best of the year. The 30-year-old threw a season-high 77 pitches, threw five shutout innings and struck out six.

Brubaker is in the middle of his best major league season. The 28-year-old is on course for a career high in innings as he stayed healthy all year and provided league-average production while striking out more than one batter per inning. That said, it’s starting to move in the wrong direction. His ERA and WHIP have increased over the past two months, and he was crushed on his last start: 4.1 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 0 BB, 4 SO.

Match 3: Sunday August 7, 1:35 p.m., MASN 2

RHP Spenser Watkins (4-1, 3.80 ERA) vs. RHP Bryse Wilson (1-6, 6.20 ERA)

The Orioles would be in a much tougher position without the contributions of Voth and Watkins in the rotation. Perhaps Watkins is even more surprising because he had already spent a season in the organization, and there didn’t seem to be much more potential to be discovered. Instead, he flipped a switch and just delivered the best month of his career, allowing six earned runs in 23 innings in July, then started August with a gem against the Rangers.

Wilson’s overall numbers look much worse than the pitcher who’s taken the mound since returning from a midseason minor league stint. He was promoted to Pittsburgh on July 2. Since then, the right-hander has a 3.62 ERA in 27.1 innings. However, there are some peripherals that are not suitable for it. He struck out just 15 and his opponents have .833 OPS against him. The biggest improvement was a significant reduction in steps – just three during this time.

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