Let’s not mince any words: the Orioles are bad. Alex Cobb, signed to a four-year, $57 million deal this offseason, has been bad. The Braves have been (surprisingly!) very good. With the Nationals and Phillies locked in a weekend series, the Braves are on the precipice of a great opportunity to extend their division lead. Will they do so, or will they stumble over the low-flying Os? You’ll have to tune in to find out.
First, let’s talk more about Baltimore’s struggles as a club. They have baseball’s worst record by half a game, with a paltry .288 winning percentage. The last team to finish with anything near that for a full season was the woeful 2003 Detroit Tigers (41-119); in any given season since then, it’s been common to have no team finish with a winning percentage below .400 or .350. The Orioles have, by far, the worst crop of position players in MLB. They are the only team whose position players are, in aggregate, below replacement level. Only Manny Machado has more than 1 fWAR accumulated on the season; they have five whole players with 100 or more PAs this season putting up sub-replacement level performances (Pedro Alvarez, Jonathan Schoop, Anthony Santander, Trey Mancini, and Chris Davis). Davis is unique in his own right, with already a negative 2.0 fWAR accumulated, and might have been on pace for the worst season ever if not for his playing time mercifully going extinct in recent weeks. Offensively, Machado has been great as usual (145 wRC+), and Mark Trumbo, Adam Jones, and Danny Valencia (wRCs+ over 100 but below 120) have helped. Literally no one else on the team has had even an average batting line, in any sample. It’s been just as bad defensively, with only Craig Gentry and former Brave Jace Peterson having 100 or more innings of above average fielding (1 run or above).
The pitching has been somewhat better, bolstered by a pretty good bullpen that covers for what’s been a fairly awful starting rotation. In aggregate, Baltimore’s pitching staff is 26th by fWAR and 25th by RA9-WAR. Some parts of the rotation (Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman) and bullpen (Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier) have been pretty good. Other parts of both (David Hess, Chris Tillman, Pedro Araujo) have been awful.
Tonight’s starter for the Orioles, Alex Cobb, has been pretty bad, and his results are even worse. Cobb has put up a dreadful 7.14 ERA in 12 starts, and his peripheral ERA estimators of a 5.22 FIP and 4.32 xFIP are much better, though still not great. After an injury-addled 2016 season, Cobb came back to have a solid 2.4 fWAR campaign in 2017, pitching much like he had earlier in his career with the Rays. While his strikeouts are down and his homers are up (both bad signs), his velocity, pitch mix, and overall results at the plate are not too different from his 2017 stats, though life for sinkerballers like Cobb has only gotten tougher over the past few years. Cobb had a good stretch a few starts ago, limiting the Nationals and Mets to a combined four runs in 13 innings. But, since then, he’s gotten shelled, with Toronto obliterating him for nine runs in three and two-thirds, and then the Marlins jumping on him for five runs in seven innings last time out. The Braves will hope to extend his misery a bit longer.
Sean Newcomb, who has not had a miserable season at all, will take the ball for Atlanta in the opener. Newcomb threw a gem last time out against the Padres, spinning six innings of two-hit, one-walk ball with seven strikeouts. After a four-start stretch where his peripherals took a nosedive (11/14 BB/K ratio; no more than 4 Ks in any start), he seems to have gotten the whiffs back, with 13 over his past 11-and-a-third innings. While Newcomb remains slightly inconsistent (he’s had three clunkers and three average starts to go with eight really good outings this year), he’s still pitched like one of baseball’s top 30 starters, with a 2.70 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 3.84 xFIP (68, 81, 96 on a minus basis). While he may not make the All-Star team due to a logjam of great National League hurlers this year, he can also improve his chances mightily with a few more good starts before mid-July.
The Orioles have not played the Braves since 2015, when Atlanta suffered a three-game sweep at their hands in Camden Yards. The Orioles haven’t visited Atlanta, or played a good Braves team, since 2012, where they won two of three at Turner Field, during a time when both clubs were fielding very good teams.
Baltimore Orioles @ Atlanta Braves
Friday, June 22, 2018
7:35 pm EDT
SunTrust Park, Atlanta, GA
TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv (and not stupid Facebook)
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, WYAY 106.7, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM