Oakland 4, Baltimore 2 (WPA Graph from Fangraphs)
A's Current Record: 8-4
Last year Dallas Braden was probably one of the five worst Opening Day starters and probably the worst pitcher the A's sent out on Opening Day since Gil Heredia in 1999. That's not to say he was a bad pitcher, but injuries and the A's reluctance to start a rookie were the main reasons for Braden getting the Opening Day nod. Even after pitching pretty effectively last year, I didn't really think he should have started the second game of the season.
If Braden keeps pitching like this, though, the idea of him being an Opening Day starter won't seem like a fluke at all. It's obviously much too early in the season to say whether or not Braden's reached a new level of performance, but it's entirely possible that he has. He's striking out two more batters per nine innings than last season and has increased his groundball rate from 36% to 46%. I know we're dealing with small sample sizes here, but he also looks like a different pitcher. His changeup has been devastating so far and he's been unafraid to throw it. Last night he threw it almost as frequently as his fastball.
And this is not to say his established level of performance was bad. In 2008, he made 10 starts and had a 4.57 FIP. Last year his FIP was 3.73 and most systems projected an ERA in the low 4s from Braden this year. I don't imagine Braden will finish the season with an ERA under 3, but an ERA in the low to mid 3s isn't out of the question.
Braden, despite his strong outing, was somewhat lucky to get the win as the A's offense was once again frustrating. They looked like they were getting to O's starter Kevin Millwood early. They got three hits off of him in the second inning and three more in the fourth. At this point the A's had scored four runs and had gotten Millwood's pitch count up. But the A's managed just two singles the rest of the way, looking especially bad in the sixth inning as Millwood struck out Jake Fox, Adam Rosales, and Cliff Pennington.
The A's face off against Jeremy Guthrie today, and maybe the bats will wake up a bit. Last season, Guthrie made two starts against the A's, giving up 11 runs in 5.1 innings. If not, they'll have to hope that Justin Duchscherer can continue his strong start to have a shot to clinch the series victory today.