Now that the Orioles have completed their first winning homestand of the season, going 4-3 against the Royals and Rays, they’re rewarded with a trip to D.C. to play a red-hot team with two aces showing.
The Nationals have won five in a row, coming off a sweep of the Cubs, but that doesn’t put a dent in their story. They’ve gone 54-26 since hitting bottom with a 19-31 record, the best 80-game stretch in club history.
The hand that’s been dealt.
The Nationals rotation has posted a 3.50 ERA that ranks third in the majors and a 17.3 WAR that’s first per FanGraphs. Orioles starters are last in ERA in the American League at 5.72 and have the lowest WAR in baseball at 2.9.
Orioles pitching has shown signs of improvement, especially a bullpen that’s allowed only three earned runs in the last 21 innings. But the 5.84 staff ERA is even worse than the 5.18 posted by the 2018 club that lost 115 games.
The 6.18 bullpen ERA is the worst in the majors, but the Nationals are second at 5.94. Orioles relievers have registered a -0.7 WAR per FanGraphs that’s second-worst behind the Marlins (-1.9).
Hunter Harvey has given the ‘pen a fresh look and manager Brandon Hyde a desirable option in the late innings. He hasn’t pitched since Saturday and most definitely is available tonight after tossing three scoreless innings with five strikeouts since the Orioles recalled him.
Hyde hasn’t had an arm like this one at his disposal. Not one attached to a pitcher with this kind of command and composure.
The Orioles recalled Tayler Scott while placing starter John Means on the family medical emergency list. Scott hasn’t allowed a run in 15 innings with Triple-A Norfolk, but he’s surrendered 16 runs and 14 hits with five walks and five home runs in 5 2/3 innings over five appearances with the Orioles.
“It’s more of a mental thing that I have to deal with,” he said. “Obviously down in Triple-A you’re a lot more comfortable. A lot different environment, not as big of a stadium, not as good hitters. So when you come up here it’s kind of a bigger stage and a lot more people are watching you.
“It’s just learning how to adjust to that and kind of blocking all that out and just knowing it’s the same game. Still 60 feet six inches. And that’s the biggest thing to overcome.”
But how? And especially at Nationals Park?
“You just have to get yourself focused on something else and try to stay relaxed out there,” Scott said. “Just focus on what you’re trying to do out there and the pitch itself and not just worrying about who’s out there, who’s watching, who you’re facing. And just kind of locking in to what you want to do with that pitch and executing it.”
The Nationals’ offense has registered a .341 on-base percentage that ranks fourth in the majors. The Orioles are 24th at .308. Washington’s .453 slugging percentage is eighth, while the Orioles are 24th at .412.
Pick the contender and the team in a total rebuild.
Hyde didn’t sound concerned Sunday about Renato Núñez, saying he should be fine after experiencing some tightness in his left hamstring/knee area. Núñez could be the first baseman tonight with no designated hitter available to the Orioles and the Nationals starting a left-hander. Or he could play third base if Hanser Alberto is in the lineup and starting at second.
Alberto didn’t show any signs of a concussion after leaving Sunday’s game, but he had a head contusion and cervical neck strain. Does one day off solve his issues?
Hyde won’t play Alberto until he’s fully recovered, but it’s painful to sit him against a lefty. He has 70 hits against them and a .402 average that leads the majors. His 56 singles are the most in the majors since Derek Jeter in 2012.
Alberto is teased about his aversion to walking - only 13 free passes in 432 plate appearances - but he hasn’t struck out in 33 consecutive at-bats, the longest active streak in the majors. It spans nine games.
Anthony Santander will be in the outfield after collecting a career-high five hits Sunday to raise his average to .286 with an .815 OPS.
Santander and Núñez are the first Orioles teammates with five-hit games in the same season since Manny Machado and Nelson Cruz in 2014.
Facing Corbin will spin Santander to the right side, where he’s slashing .283/.321/.495 with six home runs and 16 RBIs. He’s slashing .287/.328/.486 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs from the left side.
“I feel good, both sides of the plate,” Santander said via translator Ramón Alarcón. “There are a lot of left-handed pitchers right now, so my right-handed at-bats are up there almost the same as the left-handed at-bats. So I feel good with both.”