Team Profile – Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles shocked and awed the baseball world for the first half of the 2012 season by remaining at or near the top for its entirety. This feat was amplified by the fact that Baltimore plays in the toughest division in the game. With Boston struggling to find consistency under new management, and Tampa Bay plagued by injuries to its most important offensive pieces, New York presented the only real challenge to the Orioles early on, and Baltimore rose to the challenge.
Unfortunately for the Orange Birds, the Yankees righted their own ship, and have taken a commanding six and a half game lead over the second-place Orioles. Baltimore was also holding onto a wild card spot for a little while, but with the resurgence of the Detroit Tigers and the totally unexpected reemergence of the Oakland Athletics, even a play-in berth seems to be slowly slipping from their grasp. But they are only a game out of the second wild card race, so what does Baltimore have to do to keep postseason hopes alive?
Early on, the Orioles rotation was very strong – or at least much stronger than anyone expected. Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel were very strong early on, seemingly winning every start that they made. Chen has continued to perform well, with a 3.46 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. Hammel currently finds himself on the 15-Day Disabled List, but he had put up a 3.54 ERA and 1.24 WHIP before hand. Otherwise, the starters have fallen off since the All-Star Break. Jake Arrieta and Brian Matsuz both started at least sixteen games this season, and now neither one is on the active roster. It’s been a struggle for this starting roster, and while Chris Tillman has been a breath of fresh air (4-1 through five starts), he alone won’t bring the Orioles back from the brink.
The Baltimore offense is anchored by all-stars Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. Jones is hitting .291 with 24 home runs. The interesting thing is that despite 24 home runs, Jones only has 57 RBIs. That’s pretty indicative of the Orioles as a team, because no one is on base when Adam is hitting. So you see a lot of solo shots from him. Wieters isn’t doing great in average (only hitting .242), but he does have 13 home runs and 50 RBIs. So he’s a good bat to have, and one of the best catchers in baseball right now. The lineup is also held up by Nick Markakis hitting .284, and Wilson Betemit hitting .263. Otherwise, no one has any spectacular numbers.
It’s a little surprising that Baltimore hasn’t been able to attract a big hitter willing to take a bit of a pay cut for a couple years to pad his own numbers. Orioles Park at Camden Yard is one of those ballparks where home runs are plentiful. The wind comes in just right so that the ball carries out on any given night. So when the majority of your home games are against power teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays, your opponent is going to hit well. But, at the same time, knowing that you’re likely to hit so well if you’re playing 82 games there, then I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t want to give it a shot for a couple years (and then milk a bigger contract out of teams with more money and a chance at competing).
There has been a lot of good out of the Orioles’ bullpen, however. Relievers have pitched a lot of games this season, and many are doing quite well. Pedro Strop leads the charge with a 1.31 ERA in 46 games. Darren O’Day and Luis Ayala both have ERAs of 2.68 (O’Day also has a 1.03 WHIP), and Troy Patton sits at 2.83 with a 1.13 WHIP. Even closer Jim Johnson isn’t doing too badly, with a respectable 3.47 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. The rest of the pieces have been more or less interchangeable for the entirety of the season, which puts the Orioles at somewhat of a disadvantage when trying to make a stretch run at this point in the season. But if the four main pieces at the back end of the bullpen continue to pitch well, Baltimore should at the very least stay close to those wild card spots into September.
Keys to Success
Somehow, Baltimore has been closer to the postseason than anyone could have ever imagined. Having two of the most recently worst teams in baseball leading the East divisions (Orioles and Nationals) was an amazing treat for the Maryland/D.C. area to start the season. While the Nats have held tight to first place, the Orioles have, as I said, fallen from grace. But no longer holding the top of the division is hardly reason to get upset. They’re still close enough to the second wild card spot that a hiccup by the Tigers, Athletics, or Angels could easily put them on top. And with the Angels and Athletics heading into a weekday series starting today, one could easily fall out of the running. So, whatever it is that the Orioles did the first half, they have to recapture it for the stretch run. The starting pitching needs some work, and getting Jason Hammel healthy should certainly help with that. Otherwise, this team will fall off sooner rather than later.