For a guy who pretty much watches every Orioles game, I am still very confused as to what to make of this team. I’m really not sure what is more surprising, the fact that the O’s would be a playoff team if the season ended right now or the fact that the O’s would be a playoff team with the 3rd worst run differential (-36) in the American League. The O’s got off to a hot start and at the end of May were 29-22 and had a plus-8 run differential. They are 16-18 with a minus-44 run differential since. So obviously we have gone downhill in the last month and a half but we have at least had a good enough 1st half to be in thick of the playoff race entering the 2nd half of the season and any O’s fan would have taken that at the beginning of the season. Lets see how they got here.
It’s funny because the Orioles have a reputation of being a team with a pretty stacked lineup and just a completely erratic pitching staff. Unfortunately that statement is really only 1/2 true and it’s not the good half for O’s fans. We only have 2 guys (I’m only counting guys with enough at bats to qualify for a batting title) that are hitting over .260 in Adam Jones at .289 and Chris Davis at .261. That sounds pretty horrible and really it is but in their defense they are a team with a lot of swing and miss players as they are 3rd in the majors in homeruns with 106 and are 4th in strikeouts with 690. So with those type of power numbers it is possible to have a poor hitting team average wise and still get by as the Orioles have proven. The O’s have also been hit with the injury bug as two of their starting outfielders got hurt in Nolan Reimold and Nick Markakis. Markakis is especially painful because he is easily the 2nd best hitter on this team and his absence has definitely been visible. Even Brian Roberts came back and O”s fans hoped for some production from him and maybe a solid jolt to the lineup but he failed to deliver and recently has gone back on the DL.
Getting Markakis and possible Reimold back would obviously be a huge lift to the O’s offense however I still think they are too one-dimensional. They just have too many guys on the team who are primarily swing and miss guys that hit for power but don’t hit for a good average and it’s just tough to maintain consistent runs support when that is the case. Guys like Jim Thome, Mark Reynolds, Wilson Betemit, Chris Davis, and Nick Johnson are all guys who are in the lineup daily and it’s just tough to score runs when all of them rarely get hits. Like I said while we would have a solid lineup with the return of Markakis and Reimold, in my opinion we still have too many holes in our lineup to consistently score runs.
Even though we have had a lot of turnover on the roster, we basically have had the same starting rotation of Hammel, Chen, Matusz, Arietta, and Hunter for the majority of the season. I won’t even count the last 2 performances of Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez just because it was one outing each and they could have been a fluke. But there is a reason why these 2 got a chance and it is because of how terrible our starting pitching staff has been. Hammel and Chen have both been good this season with ERA’s under 4 but even Chen is barely under 4. As for the rest of the staff, they have been absolutely terrible. Arietta after a really good start has absolutely fallen apart and is sitting at a 6.13 ERA and is now in Norfolk. Matusz has been consistent all season, unfortunately it has been consistently bad as he has holds a 5.42 ERA. Hunter, our 5th starter, has also been sent down to Norfolk after a pathetic first half and a 6.11 ERA. Much like the hitting it is pretty incredible that we did so well considering how bad we have been. We only have one pitcher with an ERA under 3.9 and 3 of our pitchers have over a 5.40 ERA. Personally whenever Hammel or Chen was on the mound, I expected a good game and a probable win but with the other 3 on the mound it was really a crapshoot every time whether we were going to have a chance to win that night or not.
The one redeeming quality of our pitching staff has been our bullpen as they have been magnificent this year and has single-handley won multiple games for the O’s. Unlike the starters, the worst ERA in the pen is Kevin Gregg’s at 4.07 which isn’t even that bad. We have 3 guys under 2.00 ERA and 6 under 3.00 ERA. I say the bullpen is the reason we have been successful because we have won so many close games because of our bullpen. In particular our All-Star closer Jim Johnson has been spectacular and set up man Pedro Strop has been very good as well. I’m not sure if this level of success can continue but it might have to if the O’s want to have a shot at the playoffs.
Our defense has been absolutely atrocious. Somehow it hasn’t cost us a many games but it has cost us a few and that is a few more than you would like your defense to cost you. The O’s easily lead the majors in errors with 75 (2nd has 71) and honestly it should be a lot more because we have a very lenient scorekeeper. Wilson Betemit leads the team with 13 errors and Andino is disappointingly in 2nd with 12 while somehow Mark Reynolds is 3rd with only 9 (I swear he should have like 20). Really it doesn’t even matter who plays 3rd for us because on pretty much every ground ball to 3rd at this point I expect an error from whoever is there and that is pretty embarrassing at the major league level. Even Matt Weiters who is supposed to be the best defensive catcher in the game has 8 errors when his previous career high was 5. As I have said, the defense hasn’t really cost us that many games but it eventually will and our offense/pitching staff isn’t good enough to make up for our horrible D.
All in all, even though we have been disappointing in many aspects of the game it really has been a very good first half for the O’s. Like I said if you told any Orioles fan at the beginning of the season that they would be in the 2nd wildcard spot at the All-Star game they would have been ecstatic. While the hot start may have initially raised O’s fans’ hopes, it’s not like they have completely fallen apart as they are still 5 games above .500. Some might call us very lucky as we have this record with a -36 run differential but I really believe that our amazing bullpen is the real reason for that. Also we have such inconsistency with our starters (specifically our last 3), that they blow up a fair amount which causes us to lose games by multiple runs. Overall though I am pleasantly surprised with the first half of the Orioles season and hope for similar results in the 2nd half.