The season is now 50% complete – with 81 of 162 games having been played, and the Orioles have a record of 44-37 entering the final four games before the All-Star break. To repeat an already worn out theme: this is better than practically anyone would have expected in, say, March.
Though everyone would acknowledge some good things have happened for the Orioles this year, I don’t think most Birds fans have a confident sense of expectation for the rest of the year. Much of that is the “14-year history,” though more of it has to do with inconsistency of performance, the common RISP problems, and glaring defensive errors.
The Orioles have been back-filling a lot of holes all season. But so have other teams, and so do even championship teams. Seldom is there a team of high performers batting one through nine, with a solid five-man rotation, and a solid bullpen featuring a lights-out closer.
Right now, the Orioles have only about a one-half regular line-up of high performers in the field and at the plate. Think about it! That statement may have even been generous. There is Jones in center and Wieters at catcher. Sometimes Hardy, Davis, and Betemit rise to high performance standards, and Markakis is on the road back. But that’s it … everyone else is a fill-in at this point. The Orioles need to particularly have the latter four names pick it up and carry this team.
Right now with pitching, the Orioles have 2/5 of a solid rotation, with hopes that Arrieta will get consistent with his obviously good stuff, and with more hopes that perhaps Tillman and Britton can round out a starting five. Regarding the bullpen, setting aside a rather recent stretch of difficulties, this has been a huge strength for the team – highlighted by Jim Johnson who is just about the best in the game.
Questions for the Second Half
Brian Roberts – It was nice that he was able to come back; maybe he can come back again from whatever this hip/groin thing is. But I’m afraid this train has left the station. This is simply not the same person we remember. It looks to me like he was carrying a one-way ticket.
Leadoff Batter – OK… call me crazy on this one. Hey, I know the name coming up is not the quintessential leadoff guy … I argued for this actually all the way back to early spring training … OK … here it comes: Nick Markakis. I know he is not the base stealing threat that is desired, but he works pitchers and gets on base at a decent percentage. And remember, this person only really leads off once a game most times.
Third Base – This is a huge problem. There really is not a visible solution. I don’t know how to evaluate any trade possibilities for such, as it seems too far into the speculative to comment upon. But the internal options are all rather poor defensively. I say go with Betemit for the vast majority of games, with an occasional Flaherty against left-handers. This is becoming a top priority for the off season.
Left Field – With Reimold out of the equation, insert Avery. He has the tools, will be a best choice on defense, and can maybe grow over the next 81 games to become a regular player in the major leagues. The team needs some speed somewhere, though I’d not drop daily leadoff on his plate.
First Base – There are a number of choices (hopefully which do not include Nick Johnson). Actually, Mark Reynolds is the best defensively (I’ll pause for a moment while the words “Mark Reynolds” and “best defensively” sink in as having been used in the same sentence without a negative). Chris Davis should be put here and worked with and worked with to make it a positive situation. He has looked so horrible at digging any throws out of the dirt, etc… but the guy has the ability and his bat needs to stay in the lineup most days. He could be a star player if he can learn consistency at the plate. He’ll probably always be a streaky hitter, but few people can spank a ball as he does. He has to play until he proves like Mark Reynolds has (imho) that, nice guy aside, he needs to take a train somewhere else.
Mark Reynolds – As I just said, another train that has departed the depot. There is no way he stays next year, given the terms of his contract. So, move on. Utility role.
The Starting Rotation – How many in March would have predicted Hammel and Chen to be our 1-2 guys at the halfway point? Matusz and Hunter had to go down – where maybe someone there can help them the way someone somewhere helped Tillman. So, let’s go with Tillman for a while and hope for good things to repeat – but 97 m.p.h. in the 9th inning in not a fluke!! Arrieta is maddening. His ball has so much movement; how can he not dominate? And hopefully Britton can be brought on to put together a solid second half. It is not crazy to imagine these five names being a winning combination.
The Bullpen – Just more of the same will more than suffice. I still don’t see how Gregg does more than take up space. Maybe he can be unloaded now in some fashion, in that the first half is over.
I’ll confess that writing this post and thinking through it actually lifted certain of my sagging spirits about the Orioles. The players are on this roster for this team to have success on a regular basis.
I’ll post again in a couple of days about lineup and batting order ideas for the second half.