How Good Does Baltimore Have To Be?

The weird thing about the Baltimore Orioles is that, despite how detestable it seems their pitching is, or how silent their bats can be during several game stretches, there is a reason they are 66-51 this year, sitting in first place of the AL East, and quietly making statements time and time again that this is their division to win. All of a sudden, it’s August 16 and the O’s have spent the majority of their season in first place of the only division in baseball that has four teams above .500.

So, exactly how good do the Orioles have to be from here on out in order to solidify their chances for the post-season? On the surface, one would have to think that they need to play lights out baseball for the next month and a half. And while that would certainly help matters, it may not have to be that difficult. Because Baltimore has kept themselves in contention all year, they have positioned themselves to be able to take advantage of some fortuitous scheduling.

Of the four teams contending to be AL East champion, a few factors remain that could easily work out in the Orioles’ favor. With a record of 39-17 at home this year, the O’s will most certainly benefit from the fact that 25 of their last 45 games are at Camden Yards, including a huge eleven game stretch from 9/15 through 9/25. Neither the Blue Jays, Red Sox, or Yankees have that advantage- in fact, all three of those teams have more road games left to play than they do games at home. Of those three. Boston has the best home record, but unfortunately for them only have 15 games at Fenway remaining on their schedule.

All three teams- Toronto, Boston, and New York- have a west coast swing still left on their schedule. Combining the travel and the time difference is a critical detriment for teams that fly out west for extended time, and because the Orioles have already made their road trips across country, it leaves them with the advantage of less travel.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for the Orioles. They have more remaining games against teams with winning records than any of their AL East opponents (35). Besides nine games against Tampa Bay and a series against Arizona, the O’s have drawn the short stick when it comes to facing better teams later in the season. Boston sees a schedule that pits them against +.500 teams 25 times, Toronto 26 times, and the Yankees 31 times.

When the end of the season does roll around, and almost for certain these four teams will be playing for first place, the schedulers took it upon themselves to revel in the idea of nail-biting, down-to-the-wire competition. The Red Sox end their season hosting the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park for a two game set while the Orioles travel to New York to face the Yankees for three games. While there is no counting out any of these teams, it certainly seems as if letting Boston and Toronto beat each other up may put destiny in the O’s own hands.

In the end, it is simple. In order to win the AL East, you need to win games. Take one look at the standings and you will see that all four of these teams have shown how capable they are of doing that. Of the four teams still in contention, Baltimore, Boston, and New York have over 30 games remaining against AL East opponents, a statistic that forewarns of the importance of getting wins. To keep consistent with their current winning percentage (.564), Baltimore needs to win 25 of the remaining 45 games on the schedule. If that were the case, they would finish with a record of 91-71, a mark that should almost be a shoe-in for a playoff spot. However, most fans would probably like to see a little more finality and impact as the season rolls toward the end, and a finish more along the lines of 30 wins would be much more comfortable for everyone.

 

For Dylan Bundy, The Sky Is The Limit

For Dylan Bundy, it’s got to be a good feeling to have finally made it to the big leagues and showing off what the Orioles’ organization has faithfully committed to him for. After suffering through injuries since being drafted 4th overall by the O’s in 2011, Bundy has surfaced, forced his way into the starting rotation, and is out to prove that his sights are still set on becoming one of the best pitchers in the league.

Of course, it’s early. Bundy has only had four starts at the major league level, and the only reason he was even given the opportunity was because of poor performances from the backend of the Orioles’ rotation. But fate works in weird ways, as Bundy is quickly discovering, and he’s taking full advantage.

In his last two starts, Bundy drew the short stick by having to face two of the most offensive-minded teams in the majors, the Colorado Rockies and the Texas Rangers. The Rockies are third in the majors in batting average while Texas is eighth. Both teams are in the top ten in slugging percentage. To say Bundy had his work cut out for him was hardly fair. However, in the two starts, Dylan held those two offenses to a meager 3 for 40 at the plate with 15 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings. In both games, he did not give up a hit until the 5th inning.

Bundy’s impressive outings have caused an outcry from fans for more. It is pretty well known that the plan was to limit him to 80 innings this season- a number that was determined to be easy to maintain since his role from Opening Day was to make appearances from the bullpen. Now, with his numbers being so dominant in his short time as a starter, one has to wonder if Buck Showalter will start to backtrack on his original plan and unleash the unrelenting dominance that Bundy has shown in his past few starts.

Of course, Showalter will have to consider the injuries as reason to reel in Bundy’s work. The baseball world saw first hand the damage that overexertion can cause to a pitcher coming off of major throwing arm surgery. Johan Santana, arguably one of the best starting pitchers in recent history, certainly did himself no help by staying in a game longer than he should have in order to claim a no-hitter; soon after, he reinjured his shoulder and watched his career slip away. Instances like this make it a difficult decision to determine where to draw the line between team success and a player’s health. While Showalter has not released any information regarding what he will do going forward, one should not be surprised if Bundy is held to his innings limit as a means to solidify his arm health for the future.

But for now, O’s fans should enjoy the ride. Bundy has shown the most success of any young Orioles’ grown pitching prospect since Erik Bedard. He entered the starting rotation swinging, leaving a trail of impressive destruction behind him. Regardless of how much more of Bundy we see in a starters role this season, barring any injury setbacks, Bundy has shown us that there is much to look forward to in the future when the O’s can sport a rotation in which Bundy, Chris Tillman, and Kevin Gausman get to reek havoc on the rest of the American League.

What Wade Miley Brings To The Table

On Monday, the Orioles traded Angel Miranda, an older minor league pitcher, to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for the left-handed throwing Wade Miley. Miley, a starting pitcher who is 7-8 and has a 4.98 ERA on the season, brings a new set of questions to Baltimore. Mainly, people are asking why? The Orioles are looking to fight for the playoffs, and a player with those kind of stats does nothing to comfort anybody’s doubts that the team will continue to play well enough to achieve such a goal.

However, there is more to the picture. As with most trades during the trade deadline, the Orioles not only filled a need, but they did it on the cheap. There was no way Baltimore would have been able to afford to go out and acquire one of the glitzy starting pitchers being shopped around. And let’s face it- even if they did have the minor league talent to offer up for a glamour piece like Rich Hill or Matt Moore, it’s hard to think that giving away prospects would be worth obtaining a starter for just a few months. Instead, GM Dan Duquette stuck to his restrictions and shopped within his budget.

So why did Duquette pull the trigger on this trade? What makes Wade Miley worth it? While Miley does not bring knockdown numbers, he does bring several things the Orioles have not been getting from their starting pitchers all season long.

He is a lefty. That is something Baltimore knew they needed in their rotation. Opposing managers stack the lineup depending on pitching matchups and left-handed pitchers limit their options.

He is a veteran. Miley has been in the majors since 2011 and brings experience.

He was a cheap trade. While the Orioles did pick up the remainder of his contract, he is under team control through next year with a team option for 2018 as well. This means he’s not a rental player.

Therefore, he is an option. The Orioles have the ability to create competition again. Miley will be in camp next Spring Training, competing with whoever the O’s decide to bring in during the off-season. It also allows the Orioles to move Ubaldo Jimenez back to the bullpen.

He is hot. Over the month of July, Miley has had a 3.45 ERA and in the five games he’s started. Over those five games he has gone at least six innings in four of them.

Statistically, he is better than most of what the Orioles have currently. Only Chris Tillman has a better ERA this season, and only Tillman and Kevin Gausman have more strikeouts.

The hope is that Miley will keep the team in the game through allowing limited runs and going deeper into ballgames. He will provide stability as the Orioles #4 starter. Will he make the difference? Let’s hope so. But I think we can all sleep better knowing that, this trade deadline, the O’s went with a low-risk move by acquiring a starting pitcher with the things they need while giving away next to nothing to get him.

Hyun-Soo Kim Has Impressed All Year

With an Ichiro-like swing of the bat on Thursday, Hyun-Soo Kim placed a ball neatly over the right field fence at Safeco Field in Seattle, and the Orioles held the all-time record for most homeruns hit by a team in June. Besides the pitcher, Kim was arguably the last guy people expected to get the hit that broke the record, but, what else does this guy do but surprise us?

Kim began his Orioles career long after he began his professional career. He had played with the Doosan Bears of the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) since 2006, posting a career .318 average with almost 1,300 hits. But, when he arrived in Sarasota and began Spring Training with Baltimore, his start was anything but fast. He batted only .181 through the month of March and, because there was concern that the transition between the KBO and the Major Leagues was so drastic, Buck Showalter and his staff attempted to assign Kim to Triple-A Norfolk. However, a clause in Kim’s contract stated that he had to agree to such a move, and so he refused his demotion. And so began a tumultuous start to his major league career.

For the first month, Showalter was not shy to make it apparent that he did not want Kim to play. Many claimed that he had held the team hostage and, although undeserving, he forced them to give him one of the twenty-five spots on the major league roster based on technicality alone. As it was, Kim appeared more in the background of TV camera angles into the dugout then he did on the field.

But the Korean superstar was not to be denied. He made the most of his few plate appearances in an attempt to prove that he should be given more playing time. In April, he came to the plate a meager fifteen times, yet found a way to get on base in eleven of those instances. Nothing was pretty- nine hits, eight of which were singles, and two walks. But it began to open peoples’ eyes, and so Kim started seeing more time in the lineup.

In May, he saw his number of at-bats jump to 35, and while he didn’t stay as hot at the plate, he kept forcing opponents to work to get him out. He still got on base at a nice clip, making it difficult for Showalter to argue against using him.

June was the biggest determinant. In 72 at-bats, Kim posted a .333 average, an On Base Percentage(OBP) of .422, and had eight RBIs. He was not getting consistent playing time, but it was enough to make a reasonable case that Hyun-Soo Kim was facing major league pitching successfully and with confidence.

There are no signs to show that Showalter will stop platooning Kim with right-handed hitting OF Joey Rickard. Both players are in their first year in the majors and both are showing exciting signs that they’re not settling on a short-term stay. But Kim is older (28) and has more experience, even if it’s from the Korean Baseball Organization. In a lineup that is not lacking guys who have a knack to strikeout when not hitting homeruns, Kim becomes a breath of fresh air- he is willing to get on base no matter what it takes.

Thus far this season, in 144 plate appearances, Kim continues to keep his batting average up. He’s hitting .344 and has drawn 16 walks compared to his 18 strikeouts. He has an OBP of .424, a number in the world of baseball statistics that is quite amazing.

Unfortunately, Kim doesn’t qualify to be considered a league leader in any offensive stat because those numbers are based on a certain amount of plate appearances*. But, to compare anyway, here are some of the names atop the OBP leaderboard. It’s definitely company that could be worse.

  1. David Ortiz (Boston ) .435, 263 at bats
  2. Jose Altuve (Houston ) .427, 315 at bats
  3. Paul Goldschmidt (Arizona ) .426, 289 at bats
  4. Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels ) .424, 295 at bats
  5. Matt Carpenter (St. Louis ) .422, 271 at bats

Of course, those guys have “everyday playing time” at bats, but it’s still fun to think that a guy that has never played in the Majors before this year, who has never seen any of the pitchers he’s facing on a game-to-game basis, who played in a league that many scouts say is equivalent to Triple-A, is putting up part-time numbers that mirror the league leaders. And he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

As the Orioles march toward the All-Star break and lead the AL East, it’s players like Hyun-Soo Kim that they will continue to rely on to keep the offense moving. But so far, there is nothing to complain about. The man whose nickname in Korea was “Hitting Machine” seems to be out to prove to the American fan base that he is exactly who they say he is.

 

 

 

*In order to qualify for “league leaderboards” in any offensive statistic, a player must have at least 3.1 plate appearances per his team’s games played. Kim is averaging 1.82 plate appearances per game due to the lack of playing time he received in the beginning of the season, as well as Buck’s tendency to play the pitching matchups 

Winning Weird.

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.

cbs 2016 preseason predictions

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).

 

 

Why The Orioles Need Ryan Flaherty

Let’s get straight to the point. The Orioles need Ryan Flaherty. They will need him for the foreseeable future because of an injury sustained to J.J. Hardy. They will need him to bring solidarity to the bench. They will need him because he’s versatile and not a liability defensively.

To get one thing straight, we all know the O’s lineup is powerful. Like, 722 career homeruns combined between Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, and Matt Wieters powerful. And in Camden Yards, we WILL be watching balls fly over the fence a-plenty. So, when it comes to offense, the Orioles are not looking to replace or add on to. They don’t need to do that. The power will be there.

Ryan Flaherty doesn’t bring much offensively. He has a career batting average of .215. He’s hit 32 career homeruns. He doesn’t put up big numbers at the plate. But guess who does? Almost everybody else in the Orioles’ lineup, including Pedro Alvarez and Nolan Reimold, both guys who don’t start on a daily basis either.

And that’s where the value of Flaherty really shines. Flaherty can play up to six positions with confidence and at least league average, which is more than you can ask for a utility player. Of all the positions he plays, his fielding percentage at 3rd base is lowest- which follows league consistency among all players at that position. It’s not called the “hot corner” for nothing. And because Flaherty can give you a guy off the bench that is able to fill in at these positions, it expands the Orioles’ bench.

Most teams need to stock their bench with single position players, leaving them limited in the versatility that is provided by those guys. In Baltimore, the O’s were able to sign Pedro Alvarez, a free agent power hitter who smacked 27 homeruns last year in Pittsburgh, and don’t feel like he HAS to be in the lineup everyday. They are also able to carry Nolan Reimold, a homegrown power potential candidate who can play all three outfield positions if necessary. They can do all of this while keeping Caleb Joseph on the roster to back up Wieters, allowing Wieters to have time off or play DH.

All of these effects are caused by having Flash as a utility player. There is more to baseball than a batting average, especially when it comes to players whose role is to come off the bench. So, when comparisons are made, and Flaherty’s numbers are put up against the rest of the league, remember, he’s not a starter. He’s not a good hitter. But he’s also not on the major league roster to be those things. Because, when it comes down to it, his value is through the players around him that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Just Some Thoughts

After May 4th, the Orioles are sitting pretty. At least, in the eyes of those who thought they’d be occupying the basement of the AL East at this point, O’s success is surprising. For the fan base, however, this was all part of the plan.

But all has not been great in Birdland. After a hot 7-0 start, the Orioles have posted a mediocre record of just 8-11. While that is not a first place performance, they have utilized an 8-5 record against American League East teams to keep themselves atop the division. However, as we have seen in years past, a successful baseball team needs to avoid long losing streaks and beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. Winning in this league is difficult and it’s come to be known that making it easier for the other team is not the way to make a charge to the postseason.

What’s Wrong With Adam Jones?

Last year in the month of April, Adam Jones posted a .400 batting average, hit 5 home runs, drove in 19 RBIs and struck out only 10 times, all in 75 plate appearances. Home crowds chanted M-V-P during his every at-bat, ESPN threw his name in with their list of the best players in the league, and chatter surrounded the club that Jones had finally secured his place in team history as one of the best leaders on and off the field. However, just a year later, AJ’s April statistics were quite a different story. The O’s centerfielder, reaching the plate 67 times,  batted just .244, had one homerun and only seven RBIs, and struck out 15 times.

There has been (unwarranted) outcry from some of the fan base. And while the frustration has been understandable, the chances that Jones has “lost a step” are not great. Instead, it’s possible that Adam is playing hurt and trying to do too much. He missed several games in the beginning of the season after seemingly hurting himself swinging at a pitch. Buck Showalter used Jones as a defensive replacement in a couple of those games, but only in situations where he would not have to come to the plate. Could Jones’ lack of production come from playing while hurt? It’s certainly possible. Whether Showalter feels his lack of production deserves some time out of the lineup or not is to be seen, but don’t count on it.

J.J. Hardy Is Hurt (again), Flash Fills In

The report is that J.J. Hardy will be out 6-8 weeks after fouling off a pitch into his left foot, resulting in a hairline fracture. The O’s have had experience with Hardy out of the lineup, and, as usual, Ryan Flaherty will be asked to step up and see more playing time. Flaherty is a commodity off the bench that Showalter likes to have around because he can play any position when needed. Already, Flash has seen playing time this season at third base and left field, but his versatility allows Baltimore to put him anywhere and even list him as the 3rd string catcher in some situations.

There has also been word that Paul Janish, the shortstop currently in Triple-A Norfolk, will be called up as early as Saturday. The move will give the Orioles a four-man bench but will force them to lose an extra arm in the bullpen. Janish is on paternity leave until Saturday, hence the team waiting to make the move.