Another day for Orioles fans to sit around and do nothing. Seemingly a regular occurrence only a month into the season, rain postponements and scattered off-days have given the Orioles and their fans plenty of days without baseball. Though, it will indeed have its costs, maybe there are some silver linings to this pattern.
First, let me say that it probably isn’t extremely popular with the players or manager Buck Showalter that they will have to play 26 games in 27 days starting tomorrow night in Tampa against the Rays. That is a long stretch of baseball to have to play with just one day off.
After that run, they will get another off-day on June 1st, followed by 16 straight games against the Rangers (Arlington, TX), the Oakland Athletics (Camden Yards), the Boston Red Sox (Camden Yards), the Toronto Blue Jays (Camden Yards), and the Tampa Bay Rays (Tampa Bay, FL). Yikes. That is as tough a stretch as it gets. But considering the issues the Orioles currently have encountered, the off-days may be more valued now than later.
Various injuries to the likes of Manny Machado, J.J. Hardy and Chris Davis have prevented Showalter from writing a lineup with all nine of his starters. We have seen Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop struggle at times where Machado or Hardy would not, making their absences that much more noticeable. As soon as Machado and Hardy got healthy, Davis got sent to the 15-day DL with an abdominal injury.
The off-days may have helped buy the Orioles some time to get healthy. The many days in April where the Orioles did not play may certainly have helped prevent Hardy from going on the DL, allowing him time to recover from his own injuries. This also limited the amount of games that the Orioles would be Machado-less.
Since Davis was placed on the DL on April 27, the Orioles have played just four games (including a double-header against the Pittsburgh Pirates). With today’s day off buying Davis more time to get healthy, it is allowing the Orioles to tread water a little longer.
Another aspect of the Orioles’ roster that benefits from these days off is the abused bullpen. As Orioles starters have consistently failed to go deeper than the fifth inning, the bullpen has been extremely taxed early in the season. The Orioles’ starters have pitched into the sixth inning or deeper in just 12 of their first 29 games.
The many days off early in the season have given the Orioles pitchers time to refresh themselves and bought the front office time to make corresponding roster moves. Most recently, Josh Stinson and Evan Meek were sent to Triple-A Norfolk to be replaced by Troy Patton and Brad Brach. Though Patton was more of an inevitability (as he completed his suspension), Brach offers the Orioles a fresh arm out of the ‘pen.
Although the bullpen benefits from the off-days right now, it is possible that the starting rotation never gets into a groove during the upcoming stretch of games. If that occurs, the bullpen will continue to be overused with very limited opportunities to catch a breath.
The off-days have helped the Oriole get healthy and prevent the bullpen from being overworked, but the most vital benefit may be the fact that the struggling Orioles offense is being given time to get on track.
This extremely cold and wet spring has prevented the home run dependant Orioles from being the formidable offense that we know them to be. Their 22 home runs ranks 22nd in the majors and their 125 runs has them ranked 18th. Clearly, the Orioles hitters have not flourished thus far in the season.
Sure, Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, and Nelson Cruz have all got off to promising starts, but Hardy, Davis and Adam Jones have combined to hit just three home runs. Jones’ one home run a month in a season is the first such streak he has had since May, 2011.
The bats will heat up, but it’s clear that they need time to get going. If the Orioles hitters can start seeing some warmer weather, and the ball starts to carry, the offense may never want to see a day off that would interfere with their streaky hitting.
The many early season off-days may give the Orioles the opportunity to get on track and ride into the upcoming marathon of games a little fresher. Maybe the hitters can get into a groove and ride it all the way through June and separate themselves from the rest of the struggling AL East. But, it’s always possible that the struggles continue into this stretch of the season and making matters even worse for the birds.