I meant to write this post before the All-Star Break, but part of me wanted to give the Orioles one last chance. There’s no doubt in my mind, the Bird needed this break as badly as most any team in the major leagues. Following a 20-game stretch where the O’s were swept in two series, won two and lost the rest. Not to mention key injuries to the likes of Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts (surprise, surprise) while three of the team’s April starters were moved down to Norfolk for various reasons. Maybe a little off time is just what the doctor ordered.
But now that the Orioles have returned from their spell of R&R, dropping two of three at home to the Tigers, I feel a bit better about grading the Orioles in midseason form.
Starting Pitching – Incomplete
As I touched on earlier, three of the Orioles original five starters this year are currently wearing Norfolk jerseys, the likes of Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter. Meanwhile, the two newcomers to the organization (Hammel and Chen) are trying to keep a promising season in tact going into the second half. Hammel, who fell a few thousand tweets short of an All-Star spot, may see a dip in performance with uncertain knee issues. Chen is tasked with breaking a long track record of East Asian pitchers struggling during the dog says of summer baseball in the states.
Meanwhile, Dan Duquette is tasked with bringing in a satisfying solution to this staff. Until that happens, and/or the club can string together more than 2 quality starts at a time, this group is incomplete.
Relief Pitching – Gifted & Talented
Save for a couple blown saves, Jim Johnson is arguably the Orioles MVP this season. (I would argue otherwise) Pedro Strop has the stuff to one day be a competitive major league closer, but until then remains everyone’s favorite 90-mph slinging, crooked cap wearing set up guy. And bargain relievers Darren O’Day and Matt Lindstrom help fill in the gaps elsewhere. (I want to try going the rest of my life without mentioning Keving Gregg)
Provided the starting rotation does not overtax this group, this is quite possibly the brightest part of this organization.
Infield - Check-Minus
Before his game-tying homer to save the game against Detroit, JJ Hardy produced nothing but 28 straight outs. Robert Andino is probably this group’s strongest player, but has been exposed now that his number’s being called virtually every day. And the corners are….yeah.
If Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds were grade-school students, they’d be the kids in the corner eating paste.
Outfield – Medically Excused
I’m trying to show grace here. I’ll excuse the outfield from criticism because of Nick Markakis’ injury during this stretch of losses, along with the revolving door in left field. Adam Jones has shined and his contract extension is a huge step of progress for the club.
Designated Hitters & Catcher – I’d Like to See More Effort
Hopefully the Thome acquisition provides a more clear direction with the DH position. While I’m happy with Chris Davis’ potential, this team (especially when struggling) needs some reliable power in the lineup. If Earl Weaver brought anything to the game of baseball, it’s the importance of the three-run homer as an equalizer. If this club can find the one true option at DH, some power could help erase the struggles of multiple hitters in slumps and/or injuries.
Speaking of power, I don’t think any Orioles fans are unhappy with Matt Wieters’ abilities behind the plate – defensively or calling games. But I think the Jesus in cleats many of us were promised is not the golden slugger we had hoped for. Wieters is productive, but if his power figures improve at all, Bird Land will be a great place for years to come.