After 26 consecutive years of my five boys going to school, my last guy has his final day of class today before graduating from high school next week. So forgive my end-of-the-marking-period mindset at the moment, but the Orioles have just finished the first trimester of their season – 54 of their 162 games with a 30-24 record. This is the exact number of wins and losses as last season at this point, though they had just lost 8 of 10 games before winning 9 of the next 12.
I thought I’d pause from the day-to-day narrative and take a moment to evaluate this first trimester of the season and pick out five top stories, along with five disappointments.
Top Five Stories of the Early Season
1. The ascendance of Manny Machadoto an all-star caliber player
I confess to being among those at the beginning of the season who were openly questioning the actual wisdom of batting Machado in the second spot in the order. That Manny would someday do what he has now done was not in any doubt in my mind, I just never imagined it would happen at the beginning of this season. “Extraordinary” is the word, as he leads all of baseball in two-baggers and is among the league leaders in average. It seems he is a part of every major offensive rally. So just how good could this guy become?
2. The fierce figure of Chris Davis in the middle of the order
As surprised as I am about the rapid ascendance of Machado, I am not shocked whatsoever that Davis has become a total beast on offence. Anyone with a baseball eye who has watched this guy over the time he has been with the Orioles would have to see that his day was coming. The ball leaps off his bat, even on bad swings. As Chris rightly notes in interviews, the big difference is his better ability at seeing and swinging at good pitches. He is on pace for a mega-season, likely far from the only of those we will ever see from him.
3. The consistent presence and health of Nick Markakis
Remember the injuries from last year? … the surgeries??? … the concerns in spring training about his neck? … the suggestions that he was on a trajectory of decline from year to year? That all seems rather silly right now, though seeing him hit the ground hard last evening on a diving catch made me recall some of the aforementioned history! Having hit in 18 of the last 20 games, Nick has a sweet swing going these days. And who would not benefit from hitting after Machado and in front of Adam Jones and Chris Davis?
4. The top-of-the-game defensive on a daily basis
After the first 54 games, the Orioles lead the American League with a .990 fielding percentage, having committed the fewest errors with a total of but 19. We’ve had 3rd basemen in the past commit that number of errors in 54 games all by themselves! Well, maybe not quite, but it looked that way. Much has been written about the defensive change that occurred when Machado joined the team for the final third of last season. It does make a difference. And with McLouth on the field, it is amazing to think that the Birds have five gold glove winners with a 20-year-old that may be the best of all! Showalter has always said that they will be patient to wait for the hitting to come around with someone who can field their position. Just ask Yamaico Navarro about that!
5. The McFactor of McLouth
Nate McLouth was an indifferent signing in my mind – I neither applauded it in a big way nor thought it was foolish. But I am pleased to see it has been a very positive impact and not just a guy catching lightning in a bottle. As much as he helps with defense and leadoff OBP, it is the speed factor that I am enjoying. The Orioles are currently tied with the Red Sox for the league lead in swiped bags at 41 total. It has been a long time since there has been this sort of speed at Camden Yards.
Top Five Disappointments of the Early Season
1. The breakdown of the bullpen as the team’s #1 strength
More than anything, the great successes of last year were simply unsustainable at that level; though one would not have predicted the troubles that have befallen almost all of the bullpen guys this season. Many subscribe to the theory that they are overworked from the demands upon them as a consequence of starters not going far enough into games. I do not buy that, but I rather believe it is simply a number of guys failing to hit their spots consistently as in the past. It is sad that there were four recent games that were ready to fall into the win column before Jim Johnson blew them – two of them in grand fashion. Johnson’s return to form is as critical for the Orioles as any other single component of the team.
2. The rotation of the rotation
It is not a shocking headline that the Orioles have had to go through a high number of varied starters already this season. Even so, most everyone expected a bit more consistency from even one or two of these guys. The injury to Wei-Yin Chen is most unfortunate, and it does not sound like he is quickly bouncing back. Recent starts by Freddy Garcia (who thought we’d be writing about him?) and Jason Hammel give some short-term hope, along with Miguel Gonzalez. Chris Tillman has actually pitched about the best, while it looks like Kevin Gausman is going to need some more work at a lower level. Dan Duquette’s stockpiling of arms may be his best contribution to this outfit since his arrival.
3. The need for an ADT Security System to protect the house
Curiously, the Orioles are only 13-12 at home, while being 17-12 on the road, including a great west coast trip. They will have to play better at the Yard. I think they will.
4. Is there really a posse just over the horizon?
Even without the arrival of some highly-touted young players, the Orioles are a younger-than-average team. The struggles of Kevin Gausman in the first two outings were probably beyond what was hoped or expected by the organization, yet there is time to work out these matters. The other (not so young anymore) young prospects like Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton continue to be a sort of enigma. And Dylan Bundy is on an extended recovery break, as is also now Jonathon Shoop with a stress fracture in his back. That sounds painful.
5. The lack of R&R
No, I’m not talking about rest and relaxation, though that is what ends up being the frequent remedy for the Orioles’ R&R pair of Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts. I’m not going to add a lot of new words to this, as so much has been written by everyone who follows this team about these two guys. I confess to personally liking each of them very much and so, so, so hope for their bodies to allow their baseball skills to be evident. But that is the problem, and it is fully disappointing that it never seems to be sustainable for either.
Conclusion – There is no longer any doubt that a new era of quality baseball has definitively arrived in Baltimore. ENOUGH of any talk of luck or temporary anomalies … this team and organization is for real. Every statistic from around August of 2011 (inclusive of about 275 games) through the present time indicates that the Orioles are near the top in most every category. Anyone who does not admit this is either someone who simply refuses, or someone who does not want to acknowledge what is categorically true.
Tags: Baltimore Orioles