It's April 18, and the Cincinnati Reds are in first place. They'll kick off a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles (8-3) tonight at Great American Ball Park. Can you say World Series Preview?
Here's what to look for in tonight's "Battle for Frank Robinson." Ah, that reference is a little dated.
Here's what to look for in tonight's "Battle for Drew Stubbs." Wait, Stubbs is in the Giants system now?
Here's what to look for in tonight's baseball game!
Last Season and What's Ahead
The Orioles went 89-73 in 2016, and they lost to the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card Game. You remember that game, don't you? Buck Showalter had one of the most dominant relievers in baseball last season, but he refused to use him in a high-leverage playoff situation. He opted to go with Ubaldo Jimenez instead, and the result was predictable.
Bryan Price, the face of modern bullpen usage, scoffs at your unenlightened approach to the game Buck Showalter.
The Orioles come into tonight's game with the best record in the American League (8-3). FanGraphs projects Baltimore to go 76-75 in their remaining games. Baseball Prospectus offers a much more pessimistic projection (69-82). To be fair, PECOTA was down on the Orioles last season, and they ended up making the playoffs.
New Faces (notable)
Welington Castillo - The Orioles signed Castillo to a one-year deal with a player option for next season. Castillo was brought in as a replacement for Matt Wieters, who signed with the Nationals before the season. Last year, Castillo appeared in 113 games for the Diamondbacks and hit .264/.322/.423 with 14 HR and 68 RBI.
Seth Smith - Baltimore acquired Smith by sending Yovani Gallardo to the Mariners in a January trade. Smith is the starter in right field on the depth chart, but he'll occasionally sit against left-handed pitchers.
Vidal Nuno - The Orioles acquired Nuno in a trade with the Dodgers for a minor league pitcher. He's made two relief appearances for Baltimore this season.
Fare Thee Well
Drew Stubbs :(
Some pitchers you've never heard of
The Lineup (2016 stats are in parentheses)
Seth Smith - RF (.249/.342/.415, 16 HR, 62 R, 63 RBI, 0 SB)
Adam Jones - CF (.265/.310/.436, 29 HR, 86 R, 83 RBI, 2 SB)
Manny Machado - 3B (.294/.343/.533, 37 HR, 105 R, 96 RBI, 0 SB)
Chris Davis - 1B (.221/.332/.459, 38 HR, 99 R, 84 RBI, 1 SB)
Mark Trumbo - DH (.256/.316/.533, 47 HR, 94 R, 108 RBI, 2 SB)
Welington Castillo - C (.264/.322/.423, 14 HR, 41 R, 68 RBI, 2 SB)
Hyun Soo Kim - LF (.302/.382/.420, 6 HR, 36 R, 22 RBI, 1 SB)
Jonathan Schoop - 2B (.267/.298/.454, 25 HR, 82 R, 82 RBI, 1 SB)
J.J. Hardy - SS (.269/.309/.407, 9 HR, 43 R, 48 RBI, 0 SB)
It should be obvious by looking at this list, but Baltimore does not steal a lot of bases.
Trey Mancini has hit four home runs this season which ties him for the fifth most in the AL. So far, he's only appeared in seven games for Baltimore. If the rookie continues to hit the ball like this, he's going to force himself into the lineup.
The Pitches (for this series)
Kevin Gausman (vs. Bronson Arroyo) - Tuesday at 7:10 ET
Gausman is probably the best starter in Baltimore's rotation, and he'll make his fourth appearance of the season tonight. Thus far, Gausman has gone 1-0 with a 3.94 ERA in 16 innings of work. His strikeouts have dipped this season (6.2 SO/9), but he's likely to be the toughest test Cincinnati faces in this series. Luckily, the Reds are countering with Bronson Arroy...oh no. Yesterday, Michael Beller of Sports Illustrated wrote about Gausman's new slider.
Ubaldo Jimenez (vs. Amir Garrett) - Wednesday at 7:10 ET
You remember back in 2010 when Ubaldo Jimenez was dominating opposing lineups as the ace of the Rockies staff? Well, don't worry because he's a pretty different pitcher now. In 2016, Jimenez went 8-12 with a 5.44 ERA. He's yet to register a decision this season, and he's racked up a 10.38 ERA in 8.2 IP (two starts).
Jimenez vs. Garrett? You could say the Orioles have...
Wade Miley (vs. Scott Feldman) - Thursday at 7:10 ET
Miley started the 2016 season in Seattle before coming over to Baltimore in a July trade. Between both clubs, he made 30 starts and went 9-13 with a 5.37 ERA. This season Miley is 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 IP.
A Key Injury
Zach Britton was recently placed on the 10-day DL with a sore forearm. Brad Brach will be the likely choice to get saves in Britton's absence.
Cincinnati takes two out of three, and they retain their position atop the NL Central.