Grew up in Chicago, now in Baltimore. Here is a preview of what the Cubs face in hosting the Orioles the next three days.
In the glory years under Earl Weaver, the Orioles mantra was pitching, defense and three run-homers. And they rode that to 3 World Championships and 6 World Series appearances between 1966 and 1984. This team pretty much is following that example. They are not a good base running team, they don't steal bases, they don't have a high OBP, they don't bunt and it's rare that they manufacture runs. For the Cubs to slow the Orioles down, they are going to have to keep the Orioles inside the friendly confines. In guys like Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce and Delmon Young, they have some guys capable of the long ball.
Probably the most interesting game is going to be game 1 of this series, with former-Oriole Jake Arrietta making his first start against the Orioles. When Jake was in Baltimore, he had the best stuff of any Orioles starter. He actually was the opening day starter for the Orioles in 2012, but he never put it all together. Obviously, he is flashing the form the Orioles saw in him, but couldn't wait for it to develop.
Opposing Arrietta will be Kevin Gausman. Real good upper nineties fastball and if he is hitting his spots, that sets up his knee buckling change-up and breaking pitches. He'll have games where his command is off as all young pitchers do, but if the wind is blowing in and he's on, it might be scoreless through seven.
Thumbnail on the Orioles position players:
Nick Markakis, RF - Not your prototypical lead off hitter, but an AL Gold Glove candidate. Strong arm, good jumps and not afraid to sacrifice his body to make a diving or leaping catch. Had a 10 game hitting streak snapped in Chicago v. the White Sox Tuesday, so we'll see if that means anything or not.
Chris Davis, 1B-3B - May play third to replace the injured Manny Machado. Adaquete there with a strong arm that sometimes negate his lack of experience. Better at first where he is a great scooper of low and skip throws. Hit 53 homers last year, just broke 20 this year, but is under the Mendoza line. Explanations (take your pick) - upper cutting too much, pull happy or he is playing through an oblique strain that had him on the DL in May. The last is a rumor, the other two my observations.
Adam Jones, CF - Won a couple of Gold Gloves so he has range; also has a strong if sometimes erratic arm. The unquestioned leader on the team, if he is going good, he is laying off two strike breaking balls in the dirt low and away. Doesn't walk much but will drop a bunt now and then. Has been among the AL leaders in infield hits all year.
Nelson Cruz, LF - After his PED suspension last year, the Orioles got him to sign for a year at 8 million. Had a great first half, may have won MVP if the vote had been held then, but has struggles since then including a 7 hits in 63 at bat stretch that ended last week.
JJ Hardy, SS - Not the flashiest defender but has won two Gold Gloves by the expedient of catching almost everything that he can get to and turning those balls into outs. Had early season back woes that seem to have hurt his power, but he has become a smart situational and runners in scoring position hitter. Used to be a dead pull hitter, now he'll take the ball to center or right.
Steve Pearce, 1b-LF - Two years ago, this guy's picture was in your dictionary under journeyman - he played on 5 teams in 2012. The Orioles released him in April but when Davis went on the DL with the oblique strain, Pearce was re-signed and started hitting. Except for a slow July, he hasn't stopped. Went on an XBH tear against the White Sox earlier in the week.
Jonathan Schoop (pronounced Scope), 2B - Rookie who has enormous power and is a very good defender. He is prone to striking out; I think he has a slider speed bat, but should be something in a few years as he gains experience. Very good pivot man on the double play. Ryan Flaheerty, an ex-rule 5 pick-up from the Cubs, may see action at second as well. Good defense, has trouble hitting pitches with movement, especially curves.
Caleb Joseph/Nick Hundley, C - Playing because incumbent Matt Wieters had Tommy John surgery and is out for the year. Joseph is a real good defensive catcher - throws well and has a reputation of being able to frame pitches well. Slow starter offensively, but had a stretch of 5 homers in 5 games, so he's picking it up. Nick Hundley is the grand son of Randy Hundley, Cubs catcher of the late sixties. Better bat than Joseph, lesser defensively.
The other starters look to be Bud Norris, ex-Astro on Saturday, and Miguel Gonzalez on Sunday. Norris has developed a lot of confidence in a change-up and has been the O's most consistent starter this year. Gonzalez is up from the minors, ex-Angel with fast ball setting up his other pitches.
Two pitchers the Cubs will probably see are closer Zack Britton, who has a 96 mile per hour sin
king fastball, and Darren O'Day, right handed set-up man who has given up runs in 1 of his last 27 appearances.
First look at the Cubs except for the occasional highlight. Will be interested in seeing young Mr. Baez, wish I would catch Mr. Bryant, but those two should be part of the Cubs turnaround in the not too distant future.
Orioles have been hot since the All-Star break, going 21-10. Don't let the no-name or unknown names on the pitching staff fool you; it has been strong starting pitching that has put them in first place, and a good bullpen that has come through when needed to seal the deal.
I hope for close, well-played games.
Anything I should know about the Cubs as they come in? Who's hot, who's not?