While the season is technically more than halfway completed, the All Star Break is generally considered to be the midpoint of the season. Therefore, it is time to look at how the birds have performed during the first half of the season and preview what to expect for the upcoming second half.
The birds currently sit at 52-42, 10 games above .500. They currently sit atop the AL East, four games ahead of the second place Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles are the only team in the division with winning records both at home and away so far this season. The Orioles are just one of two teams with winning records against the AL East, the other being Toronto.
The Orioles strength this season has yet again been the offense. They have the 4th highest batting average and the fifth highest slugging percentage in the league. They have hit the second most home runs in the league, behind only Toronto. It would be a let down if the team does not keep this up, especially since the birds had the most all star starters in the AL.
When their perennial all star catcher, Matt Wieters, ended his season by getting Tommy John surgery, no one knew what would happen at that spot. Caleb Joseph was called up, Steve Clevenger became the starting catcher, and the Orioles traded for Nick Hundley. Caleb Joseph has shined since being called up, catching over 50% of baserunners trying to steal a base. He has certainly filled the shoes of one of the best defensive catchers in the game.
Starting pitching has been a serious problem so far. The club ERA is right in the middle of the league at 15th, but toward the bottom in WHIP and quality starts. The Orioles picked up some big name starters this offseason in Ubaldo Jimenez and Suk-min Yoon. While Yoon has had health issues at the AAA level, Jimenez has been a total disappointment so far. He is averaging 5.4 walks allowed per nine innings pitched and has an ERA of 4.52.
Looking forward, the Orioles must address their starting pitching. The biggest name in the market right now is David Price, but the Rays would probably ask too much for him from someone in their own division. With him off the radar, there isn’t really a clear cut answer on whether or not the birds make a splash before the trade deadline or if they try and improve from within. Jimenez going on the DL was one of the best things that could happen for the rotation. Gausman has been called on to replace him in the rotation, which is huge. Gausman has had an incredible year with the Orioles, being one of the more dominant pitchers the birds have used. Being a fireballer, he has the ability to make people miss if his off speed pitches are accurate. Once Jimenez comes off the DL, he will probably be reassigned to the bullpen if Gausman has been winning.
Since the rotation has more issues than just Jimenez, expect to see Suk-min Yoon in the orange and black before roster expansions come. Since the Orioles would more than likely not use a six man bullpen were they to make it to the playoffs, expect either Miguel Gonzalez or Wei-Yin Chen would be the person sent down. Gonzalez has been inconsistent all year and Chen has been consistent through the fourth inning. Past that, it’s a toss up if we see the Chen that will barely make it five innings or the one that makes it eight.
The Orioles defense has, once again, been stellar. The team leads the league in double plays turned, even with all the injuries throughout the year. Since they have been one of the best defensive teams in the majors for the past couple seasons, it doesn’t seem like there is anything to really worry about. As long as this keeps up, they will remain legitimate contenders to win the division.
Hitting is one thing that the Orioles could improve upon. The birds rely very heavily on home runs, scoring over half of their runs via the long ball. The problem here is that not every park is as hitter friendly as Camden Yards. They need to find a way to score without hitting home runs if they want to win in big ballparks like Comerica, which would be where they would play in the ALDS if the season were over today. When the bats go cold and no one knocks any dingers, the Orioles fail to score more than one or two runs. There needs to be some sort of strategy to score that doesn’t rely on swinging for the fences because it will not always work.
The Orioles have 68 games left in the regular season. Since the birds have played very well against the AL East this year, it would be a shame to see them play sub-.500 baseball for the remainder of the season. Knowing that the Blue Jays will become a legitimate threat once Edwin Encarnacion returns from injury, the Orioles need to build at least a seven game lead in the division before that happens. If they can do this, then it would take a massive meltdown from the Orioles to not win the East.
Based on what we have seen for the season so far, barring any major setbacks, the Orioles will probably end somewhere around a 90-72 record and win the East. They will probably end up drawing the winner in the Central, the Detroit Tigers. Past that, it remains to be seen.