At the beginning of the 2012 MLB season, the Orioles were not expected to be very successful, let alone be in playoff contention at the All Star break. After 14 consecutive losing seasons and consistently finishing at the bottom of the division, the Orioles flashed some old magic the first half of this season. They entered the break second in the AL East with a record of 45-40, but will it continue?
Although the Orioles are above .500, they can’t begin the second half of the season playing the way they did toward the end of the first half. They lost 13 of their final 19 games heading into the break, and saw many holes in their offense, defense, and pitching. Baltimore will need to make some major changes in order for them to stick around and have a shot to make the playoffs for the first time since ’97.
The Orioles starting pitching ranks 26th in the majors, while their relievers rank second, thanks in part to All Star closer Jim Johnson (26 saves). Collectively, they sport a 28-35 record with a 4.77 ERA, despite the strong numbers to begin the season. Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54 ERA) and Wei-Yin Chen (7-5, 3.93) are the only consistent staples in a rotation with young, unproven arms. However, Hammel just injured his right knee so pending the results of his MRI, this struggling rotation could still get worse.
The rest of the crumbling Orioles rotation is in shambles. Opening day starter Jake Arrieta (3-9, 6.13), who supposed to be the ace of the staff this season, once top prospect Brian Matusz (5-10, 5.43), and newly acquired Tommy Hunter (3-4, 6.11) have all been demoted to the minors within the last two weeks.
A pair of 24 year olds, Chris Tillman and Zach Britton (injured shoulder), will need to step up and contribute for the Orioles pitching to survive in the second half. Britton threw seven shutout innings for Triple-A Norfolk in his last start and Tillman pitched a gem on his July 4th start in Seattle (8.1 innings, 0ER, 7 SO).
With all this inconsistency it appears necessary that Peter Angelos (Majority Owner) and Dan Duquette (Executive VP of Baseball Operations) make a deal to bring in a notable starting pitcher. Whether it be Brewers’ Zack Greinke (9-3, 3.57) or Wandy Rodriguez (7-6, 3.38) the Orioles have plenty of young arms to use as pieces in a trade. The longer you wait on an Arrieta or Matusz, as they continue to be inconsistent, the less value they will have as potential bait. To not get a big pitching deal done would only prove to fans that winning games is not a priority for ownership.
On top of their pitching needs, it’s no secret that the Orioles have trouble in the field. They’ve committed the most errors in the league, 76, along with having the league’s worst fielding percentage, .977. Third baseman Wilson Betemit leads the team with 13 errors, at a position that has been a concern for the team. Second baseman Robert Andino, who has filled in nicely for injury prone Brian Roberts, has committed 12 errors. Strong defense can win ballgames, but this shaky Orioles defense will continue to be a worry in the second half of the season.
At the plate Baltimore started strong, but that too has cooled off considerably. The Orioles .239 team batting average ranks 26th in the majors and their 700 strikeouts is 5th most. If you aren’t making contact you have no chance of getting on base, but even when they do, the Orioles don’t do much on the base pads. Their 31 stolen bases are last in the majors and have grounded into the most double plays, 85. No player on the active roster is batting over .300, Adam Jones leads the team in average (.287), home runs (20), stolen bases (11), and has been the only bright spot in the Orioles line up.
It truly is amazing despite all the roster issues that the Baltimore Orioles remain, for now, in contention for a playoff spot. The magic of Orioles baseball returned to Camden Yards the first half of the season. Fans are excited and players are eager to prove they are here to stay. Baltimore fans continue to believe and you never know what can happen in this magical game of baseball. This is Birdland!