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Series Preview # 33 : D-backs vs Orioles

Will the D-backs sweep the rebuilding Orioles?

Galileo image of asteroid Gaspra 951
Galileo image of asteroid Gaspra 951
Photo by Time Life Pictures/NASA/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

A historical perspective.

Unlikely events happen. The Chicxulub asteroid hit the Yucatan peninsula. It caused extinction of 75% of the world’s plant and animal species. Luckily, some species of snakes survived. Dinosaurs (except birds) became extinct. The birds that survived were similar to quails and ducks. They evolved into new species, like Orioles, by a process called adaptive radiation.

It’s 66 million years after Chicxulub; this season only two NL teams will survive to reach the wild card game. Will the Diamondbacks survive? They continue to balance on the fence that will separate the two surviving NL wild-card teams.

An unlikely event would be the D-backs standing pat. Changes will happen. If the D-backs are truly a surviving wild-card team, they will need to adapt to changes and they will win need to win more than 50% of their games.

More likely than not, sweeping the Orioles would be awesome.

The Orioles series will make a HUGE difference.

Jim McLennan plotted a route to reach 85 wins, very likely enough to secure a wild-card berth. That route includes a milestone of 52 wins after completing the second game of this series. The D-backs are on-track to reach that milestone.

The D-backs and the Orioles are re-making their rotations.

Due to injuries and trades, the rotations include rookies:

  • Orioles (John Means, Tom Eshelman, and Aaron Brooks).
  • D-backs (Merrill Kelly, Alex Young, and Taylor Clarke).

The Orioles traded away their starting pitcher Cashner for two minor league players. They are definitely rebuilding. Recently, the Orioles have acquired 4 pitchers:

  • On 9 June Tom Eshelman was acquired by trading international bonus slot money.
  • On 25 June Taylor Scott was claimed on waivers.
  • On 1 July Asher Wojciechowski was acquired for cash.
  • On 6 July, Brooks was claimed on waivers.

For the D-backs, Taylor Clarke returned from the injured list on 19 July. More changes are expected:

  • Jon Duplantier is healthy; he is extending his pitch count and will be ready to start soon.
  • They could call up the recently acquired Ben Lively.
  • They could call up top prospect Taylor Widener.
  • Mike Hazen said that the D-backs need to acquire a starting pitcher externally.

The D-backs are the favorites in this series.

After the All-Star break, the D-backs have out-scored the Orioles. One basic statistic, runs scored per game, tells me one team is much better at scoring runs. The D-backs have outscored the Orioles in runs per game (6.00 vs 4.78). Awesome! If the D-backs could perform up to Pythagorean predicted win-loss, they would have 6 more wins, while the Orioles would have 2 more wins!

After the All-Star break, the D-back rotation has allowed less runs per game than the Orioles rotation. The D-back starting pitchers allowed 23 runs in 9 games (vs 28 runs in 9 games for the Orioles).

Who will pitch in this series?

Monday. Aaron Brooks, rookie (292 ERA+, 3.4 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9) vs Robbie Ray (114 ERA+, 11.7 SO/9, 4.4 BB/9)

After cups of coffee in 2014 and 2015, opportunity knocked on 28 July 2015 when Aaron Brooks was traded to the As. He started 9 games with a 6.67 ERA. He showed possibilities for next season. But his journey had some twists. Due to injuries and circumstances, he did not get back to the Majors for more than two years (until September of 2018.)

The importance of the 9 games started in 2015 cannot be overstated. They cemented Aaron Brooks’ mental toughness. They placed a conviction in his mind. That conviction caused suffering and it provided crucial mental strength.

”The absence [from the Majors] has been hard on me, but it’s also been in the back of my mind that I believe I should be here and can be here…” — Aaron Brooks

”It was [difficult to again reach the Majors], but I’m a huge believer in positive vibes. Your mind is huge. For me to just go to the field every day, try to get as much work done as I can, stay as positive as I can -- just trying to do that every single day kind of helped me steer away from even trying to think about the negative side of things…” — Aaron Brooks

”A lot for me has been mental, just having conviction with every pitch and being able to adjust from pitch to pitch. If you feel something out of whack with a certain pitch, you can flip the switch and not make it the same the next time.” — Aaron Brooks

Then the next strange twist arrived. He was DFA’d and on 6 Jul 2019, the Orioles acquired him on waivers. Was it fait accompli? With the Orioles, he has a very real chance to earn a position in the rotation.

Rumors are that the Astros, Braves, Phillies, and Yankees are interested in acquiring Robbie Ray. Will that possibility impact Ray? No. “You understand that baseball is a business, and I think if you just go about your daily job of being prepared every five days and just kind of tune out the noise everything just kind of falls into place.” — Robbie Ray

Tuesday. Dylan Bundy (88 ERA+, 9.5 SO/9, 3.1 BB/9) vs Merrill Kelly, rookie (118 ERA+, 7.1 SO/9, 2.4 BB/9)

Let’s compare the last start for these two pitchers. Dylan Bundy allowed 7 earned runs in 1 inning against the Rays. Merrill Kelly allowed 1 earned run in 7 innings against the Brewers. Advantage D-backs!

This season Merrill Kelly hit 1 batter, while Dylan Bundy hit almost 7 batters (current total is six batters). Kelly has better pitch control!

Wednesday. John Means, rookie (158 ERA+, 7.0 SO/9, 2.3 BB/9) vs Taylor Clarke, rookie (69 ERA+, 6.3 SO/9, 3.7 BB/9)

This season, John Means was in the All-Star game as a rookie. He is clearly the best pitcher in the Orioles rotation. Surprisingly, he wasn’t always an athlete.

When he was in school, if they had voted for most-unlikely to play in the Majors, he might have won. On 16 May 2019, in an interview for Inside Pitch, he said that he was the smallest and slowest in each grade. He was shy and described himself as a ghost. John Means had a late growth spurt, and you know the rest of the story.

On 18 April, he was interviewed in the locker room after the game. To that point he had been a middle reliever three times, then he started two games, and on the 18th he was the closer. When asked about bouncing between roles, his reply was interesting. “I’m just happy to be here….I want to have that role of doing whatever they want me to do.” — John Means.

Pitching is too specialized to switch every week between the roles of reliever, closer, and starter. A big issue is that “doing whatever” undermines confidence.

“A lot goes into that in a player’s mind. It’s all about confidence. When they start to get that confident feeling that they are pitching every fifth day they can do special things.” — Torey Lovullo

To the Orioles credit, after that interview, John Means was exclusively a starter in the rotation (13 consecutive games as starter). And he made the All-Star team! That’s a win-win!

Taylor Clarke is better than you might think. In his rookie season, he has faced the Dodgers three times. Against the Dodgers, his ERA is 4.6, with credit for a win, a loss, and a no decision. Perhaps his best pitch is his slider based on whiff percentage. Against the Dodgers, his slider whiff percentage ranged from 24% to 33.3%. Not bad!