The Baltimore Orioles opened up the 2016 season against the Minnesota Twins in the third home opening series against Minnesota since 2012. Oddly enough, the last time the O’s swept a home opening series was in 2012 against the Twins and we all know how that season finished up.
The Orioles came into this series asking several questions. How reliant will this team be on the home run? Can the starting pitching rebound from last season? Will the bullpen continue to be the saving grace it has been for the past four season?
Several of those were answered right on Opening Day.
Game One: Orioles: 3, Twins: 2
Following two rain delays, one starting after the second inning had finished, the Orioles sent fans home happy on Opening Day after Matt Wieters delivered a walk off single in the bottom of the 9th inning to score Chris Davis.
As for the rest of this game, Chris Tillman was only able to complete two innings of work but still managed to strikeout five of the six batters he faced and allowed no base runners. Tillman is scheduled to pitch Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays so we will get the answer to whether or not this is the Chris Tillman we will see for the rest of the season.
Tyler Wilson came in to relieve Tillman after the rain delay finished and ended up going three scoreless innings, striking out one and allowing two hits. Mychal Givens followed Wilson but unfortunately for Givens, he allowed two runs on three hits despite having two strikeouts and pitching 1 1/3 innings. Brad Brach came in to clean up Givens’ mess while paving the way for Darren O’Day and Zach Britton to eventually make their season debuts.
On the offensive side, Mark Trumbo had the most productive day out of any Orioles hitter with a four hit day but was not able to cross the plate at all. Adam Jones drove in Joey Rickard and Manny Machado with a two RBI double in the bottom of the 5th for his only hit on the day in five trips to the plate.
And of course, there is Joey Rickard. The new lovechild of Orioles fans everywhere, Rickard had two hits on the day in four trips to the plate and even got a mini ovation while returning to the dugout after flying out.
The biggest takeaway from this game was the Orioles ability to manufacture runs by getting on base and bringing those guys around to score. The best example of this was in the 9th inning when Chris Davis took a walk which was followed by a Mark Trumbo single, allowing Davis to get to third and that eventually led to Matt Wieters singling up the middle to score Davis.
Game Two: Orioles: 4, Twins: 2
In the second game of the season, the story was all about Yovani Gallardo making his Orioles debut. Gallardo pitched very decent in five innings allowing only two hits, one earned run and striking out four but also allowing three walks on the day.
Gallardo relied on his off speed pitches a lot due to the declining velocity of his fastball. He only hit 90 MPH once during the game and relied on the Orioles defense for many of his outs. The plus to all of this is that all of Gallardo’s strikeouts were swinging strikeouts so my hope is that he is able to continue that trend throughout the season.
As for the offense in this game, look no further than the $161 million man himself: Chris Davis. Davis smacked out his first home run of the season which was the first home run by an Oriole in 2016 putting the Orioles ahead at the time 2-1 and they never looked back.
The other three runs in the game came from a Jonathan Schoop double that scored J.J. Hardy, a Joey Rickard (surprise, surprise) sacrifice fly that scored Hardy as well and a Matt Wieters double that plated Mark Trumbo.
For the bullpen, the struggles continued for Mychal Givens who allowed a home run to Trevor Plouffe in the sixth inning and he was pulled after facing two more batters. Brad Brach came in and pitched 1 1/3 innings, striking out three and walking two. Darren O’Day and Zach Britton followed in the 8th and 9th innings respectively allowing for the Orioles to get their second win of the season.
Game Three: Orioles: 4, Twins: 2
Taking the mound for the first time this season is Ubaldo Jimenez who was immediately greeted by Joe Mauer with a first inning home run that gave the Twins their first lead of the series. That lead would be extended in the top of the second with a ground out to short by Byron Buxton to allow Eduardo Escobar to score. The interesting thing about that Buxton RBI is that it is the first ball he has hit into play that has not been a base hit.
As for Jimenez, he settled down immensely after those two innings and was even able to go seven innings tonight allowing eight hits, two runs with only one being earned and striking out nine hitters and walking nobody. Yes, Ubaldo Jimenez walked no batters.
Following Jimenez in the 8th inning would be none other than Dylan Bundy, making his first appearance in Camden Yards since September of 2012.
i went to Dylan Bundy's Camden Yards debut. i was a junior in high school and am now a sophomore in college. it's been a while.
— Connor Guercio (@connor_guercio) April 8, 2016
Bundy only worked one inning in relief and was helped by Caleb Joseph for the third out of the inning with Joseph’s second caught stealing of the game.
For the Orioles hitters, it was a very tough night against Phil Hughes. The first Orioles run did not come until the bottom of the sixth inning when Manny Machado hit his first home run of the season, allowing the O’s to cut the Twins lead in half.
In the bottom of the seventh, following yet another rain delay in the series, the Orioles were able to take the lead thanks to a Trevor May wild pitch that scored Mark Trumbo and a Jonathan Schoop single that scored J.J. Hardy who was able to advance on the wild pitch as well.
In the next inning, Joey Rickard gets one step closer to getting his own bronze statue out in Legend’s Park with his first Major League home run allowing the Orioles to take a 4-2 lead and allowing the fans in Camden Yards to continue to chant his name. He was even able to make his first curtain call and that is a moment every fan can just look back on and smile.
Darren O’Day closed out the Twins in the top of the ninth to secure the sweep for the Orioles, allowing them to stay perfect on the year so far.
My biggest takeaways from this series were that the Orioles seem to have effective starting pitching to compliment their already strong bullpen. The question that remains is that will this trend continue throughout the year like we saw in 2014 or start to fade like we saw in 2015.
Another takeaway has been their ability to manufacture runs and not rely on the home run as much yet. That will most likely change as the days get warmer and the ball can travel easier but for now, it seems to be working.
Looking Ahead: The Tampa Bay Rays
The Orioles now get to host the division rival Tampa Bay Rays who just split a series with another division rival, the Toronto Blue Jays. Winning the last two of the series, the Rays got an off day today allowing ace Chris Archer to be able to pitch the series opener on Friday against Chris Tillman, who is able to pitch due to the rain delay on Opening Day.
Saturday’s starters will include Mike Wright, making his first start of the season and Drew Smyly who allowed five earned runs in 6 2/3 inning in his first outing of the season. And as for Sunday, the only announced starter so far is the Rays’ Jake Odorizzi as Buck Showalter has yet to name his starter due to the weather coming into the area over the weekend.
As for now though, the Orioles can rest easy knowing that they are one of three teams to start out 3-0, the other two being the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates and despite it being very early in the season, it is always nice to see “Baltimore Orioles” at the top of the American League East.