So, it’s July 1 and the Orioles are in first place, much to the chagrin of many major sports outlets. ESPN totaled the predictions of 31 analysts before the season started and the results were interesting, to say the least. Of those experts, none of them predicted the Orioles to finish first in the AL East. Nineteen picked Toronto. Eight picked Boston. Two picked New York and two picked Tampa Bay.
As for the wild card predictions, among the same 31 educated, open-minded, “smarter than me and you” analysts, exactly two of them predicted the Orioles would achieve such a milestone in 2016. But, seeing as the MLB playoff structure now allots for all three division winners and TWO wild card teams of whom battle it out in a one-game playoff series to determine who moves on, both predicted it would be the 2nd wild card position that the O’s would grasp, meaning that they wouldn’t even be the better second place team to get into the post-season.
Fair enough, ESPN. We don’t expect much more from you anyway.
CBS wasn’t too far behind in the hater line.
I don’t even know who any of those guys are. Oh well.
I’m sure the trend continues regardless of whether it was ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, or MLB Network. To be honest, it’s exhausting to even worry about anymore. Who cares?
The Orioles Are Winning, But Are They Doing It Correctly?
The Orioles finished June impressively with a 19-9 record for the month. They set a major league record by hitting the most homeruns as a team in the month of June in all of history (56). On the season as a whole, they are averaging a seven-game winning streak once a month, have the league leader in homeruns batting in the middle of their order, and an ace who, at 10-2, is flirting with 20 game winner projections and whose name has surfaced in early Cy Young award discussions. They’ve got a home record of 31-13, they’ve embarrassed the AL East with a record of 22-13, and they’ve beaten up a league-wide hated pitcher, leading me to play this moment in cinema bravado over and over in my head.
Still, with the success the Orioles are having thus far, many believe that they will still fall out of the race before the playoffs in October. They are not winning the “right way“; they are out muscling their opponents while the starting pitching remains mediocre. They are relying on a bullpen whose recent struggles are, as some like to claim, an effect of its apparent overuse. Baltimore has gone to the bullpen 203 times this season and seen 263 innings thrown by relief pitching, using 13 different players over the expanse of the regular season. That averages out to about 16 appearances per player if all was equal.
Of course, it isn’t equal. Baseball sees turnover on the roster almost daily and so not everyone has spent all year with the major league club. Guys like Odrisamer Despaigne, Vance Worley, Darren O’Day, T.J. MacFarland, Oliver Drake and Brian Duensing have seen extensive time in the minors or on the disabled list. Brian Matusz was released. And of the 16 games Ubaldo Jimenez has appeared in this season, 15 of them have been starts. When you break it down that way, that leaves only nine guys who have taken the brunt of those relief innings. In fact, five of them- Zach Britton, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens, Vance Worley, and Dylan Bundy have pitched 187 of the 263 relief innings (71%) thrown by Baltimore pitchers this year.
Trade Deadline Deals
Phew, that was a lot of numbers. I get carried away sometimes. My apologies.
Let’s talk trade deadline. There are various opinions circulating the interwebs regarding what kind of magic Dan Duquette will work before this year’s July 31st, 4:00pm EST Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline. Unlike his predecessors, Duquette is a GM (President of Baseball Operations- sorry, Mr. Angelos) who has been busy during the trade deadline. O’s fans seem pretty positive about his ability to swing deals; Around baseball, it seems that the predictive success or failure of a team’s season is based on how active it is when the clock is winding down to make a roster move. In the past, the Orioles have acquired players like Andrew Miller, Scott Feldman, and Gerardo Parra to help solidify a post-season run. We have also seen prospects get traded away, most notably Eduardo Rodriguez and Zack Davies, both of whom are in major league rotations now. So, what does Duquette do this year?
While the majority of the outcry is to go get a solid starting pitcher, it may not be that easy. The Orioles don’t have much in terms of trade bait. The general consensus on how the trade deadline works is this: If you are a contender, you need to be willing to give away solid minor league talent in order to acquire a MLB player that will be a difference maker right away. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the success over the last four years has led to a depletion of minor league talent, as the majority of it has been traded away for players needed to help make a World Series run. They now sit in a precarious position of not being able to offer more than another team to get their hands on a starting pitcher with the firepower to turn the corner and make the pitching rotation a playoff-caliber one.
But fear not, fellow fans! The Orioles do have some players in their farm system with trade value, and, even better, guys that they can afford to part with. With the right swindling moves by Duquette and his team, a middle relief pitcher may be the answer Baltimore is looking for. With the fear of a tiring bullpen already escaping the mouths of the armchair GMs, a shot in the arm for the bullpen may be just what the O’s need. Depending on who is available, there is almost certainly a large possibility that someone out there is willing to give up a guy that is better than MacFarland, Duensing, or Worley.
While it may not be the prettiest move, an acquisition of a strong middle reliever would put the O’s on the same plane as the Kansas City Royals of the past couple of years. It was that team that appeared in two straight World Series because their lights-out bullpen made the rest of the pitching staff look great. As long as Orioles starters can get through five or six innings, the bullpen has shown almost all year that there is not much chance of a comeback once they enter the game. And believe it or not, between Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Tyler Wilson- the three starters who have seen full season action- they are averaging just about six innings a game (5 2/3).