Now that the season is currently a third of the way complete, it’s time to look at the good and the bad for the Baltimore Orioles. There have been plenty of pleasant surprises, as well as some things that make you want to shake your head or look away from the television set. I will look at the Orioles lineup, bench, pitching rotation and bullpen, and give each grades based on its early-season performances.
The Orioles lineup this year has been the strength of the team. When the season started, the Orioles were said to have one of, if not the best all-around lineup in all of baseball. While not everything has been perfect, it has gone relatively well for the Orioles.
The past few seasons, the Orioles have relied on the home run ball to score most of their runs. This year is a little different, as they are third in team batting average and fifth in total home runs. In 2013, the Orioles led the majors in home runs, but finished 10th in batting average. As a result, most home runs hit were solo, which makes it hard for the offense to score runs on a consistent basis.
In 2012, it was even worse, as the team finished second in home runs, but ranked 20th in overall average. The Orioles relied even more on the long ball to score their runs in 2012 than 2013. Compare that to the New York Yankees that year, who led the AL in home runs, but also finished eighth in average. What that led to was the Yankees scoring 92 more runs than the O’s that season, as there were more men on base when the home runs occurred.
So far this season, the Orioles are last in walks. This goes back to the runners on base discussed in the strength section. Walks are an important part to an offense, as it not only adds runners on base, but it helps add to the pitchers pitch count rather quickly, and gets the starter out of the game quicker.
If the Orioles keep up their average, and improve their walk totals, more runners will be on base, and when the home run ball is hit, it will have a greater impact on run totals.
The overall pitching this season has been pretty lackluster. One man stands out as the biggest strength for the Orioles, and that man is Zach Britton. Once a starter, Britton moved to the bullpen this year and it has rejuvenated the young pitcher’s career. Britton has thrived in everything manager Buck Showalter has asked him to do.
On the year, Britton has the most innings pitched (32.2), lowest ERA (0.83), most wins (3) and lowest batting average against (.189) among all Orioles relievers. He has been solid, and has been very dependable since he has moved into the closers role for Showalter’s Orioles.
If you watched any games this year, it is obvious what the team’s biggest issue is. It’s simple; the Orioles will not be able to remain successful if their starting pitchers last only five or six innings. Two of their best pitchers, Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, are majorly responsible for this. On the season, Tillman is averaging 5.46 innings pitched per start, while Jimenez is only averaging 5.6 innings. As a result, the Orioles as a team are currently last in the majors in innings pitched by starters.
If the Orioles starters begin to go farther into games and Zach Britton keeps up his dominance, the pitching staff can turn around a become a strength of this ball club. It also doesn’t hurt that Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Eduardo Rodriguez are in the minors ready to help the Orioles pitching staff in the near future.
When the Orioles pitchers let a batter on base, the defense doesn’t panic. The Orioles defense currently leads the majors in double plays turned (69); three more than any other team. Turning double plays not only gets two outs at once, but also helps raise the pitcher’s confidence, resulting in better pitching.
This is tough to see, as the Orioles defense is great overall. But when you look at the error statistics at third base, specifically Manny Machado, it has been a problem for the Orioles. Of the 32 errors committed by the Orioles this season, 12 have been at third base.
Machado has not looked as sharp defensively as he did a season ago, already having committed seven errors through 32 games, six less than he committed last year in 156 games. Machado is currently on pace to finish the season with 28 errors, which is extremely high for a great defensive player.
Once Machado’s defense regains 2013 form, the defense will look as strong as last year.
The Orioles remain highly competitive in the AL East. If the O’s can keep their strengths going, and improve on the weaknesses mentioned, the team could be one of the best in baseball.