By: Brett Dickinson and Barry Kamen
As the All-Star is steadily approaching, it is time to look back of some of the best and worst for the Orioles first half.
MVP (BK): Undoubtedly, Nelson Cruz. The best free agent signing this off season in all of Major League Baseball is paying off in spades, and it seems as if he refuses to come back to Earth. As of Friday morning, Cruz is tied for the most home runs in the majors, and is in sole possession of the RBI category with a whopping 74 prior to the All-Star Break. Coupled with a .291 batting average, and you have yourself a legitimate MVP candidate that is the main reason that the Orioles are in first place in the American League East.
LVP (BK): There are a couple of worthy candidates, but pinch running specialist David Lough takes this award. Acquired from Kansas City for Danny Valencia, all signs in spring pointed to Lough being the starting left fielder and a capable leadoff hitter that would make fans forget about Nate McClouth. Today, he finds himself buried on the Orioles bench, receiving an occasional start in left field when Cruz and Steve Pearce have sore backs from carrying the offense. At this point in the season, Lough has little to no value to a first-place team. The time has come for the Orioles to designate Lough for assignment, and recall Jemile Weeks or Steve Lombardozzi.
Biggest Surprise (BD): This again has to be Nelson Cruz playing at a career level in Baltimore. When signing the one year deal in the off season, he was obliviously trying to prove the MLB that he could bounce back after his 50 game suspension for PED use last season. No one could have expected this out of Cruz or teams would have been lining up for his services, instead of letting him slip through the cracks until the waning minutes before the season started. He is probably the biggest steal of the off season and in Orioles history, considering he could end up being the league MVP.
Biggest Disappointment (BD): Several players have not lived up to expectations so far this season, but Chris Davis has been the biggest disappointment. After his record-setting 53 home runs for the Orioles in 2013, many expected him to continue to torture opposing pitchers. Though it is not as bad as many are making it out to be, as he does have a good OPS, he is not hitting for any average. His power numbers are also drastically down from last year’s torrid pace.
Best Roster Move (BD): Duh, signing NELSON CRUZ. See MVP and Biggest Surprise
Worst Roster Move (BD): This is a tough one since this team tinkers so much with its MLB roster so regularly. But it has to be the Yo-Yo the organization has played with its top overall prospect and arguably best pitcher on the team in Kevin Gausman. Let the pitcher get comfortable into a MLB routine and hold down a spot within a below-average rotation. Honorable mention goes out to Steve Lombardozzi wasting away in Triple A, after proving he could be a valuable piece with his versatility and a much better hitter than the likes of Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop.
Best Hitter (BK): This is getting redundant; Nelson Cruz…
Best Pitcher (BK): In whatever role he has been asked to fill, Zach Britton has done it at a very high level. When the season started, Britton was good for 4-6 scoreless innings in relief every week. When Tommy Hunter failed to record clean 9th innings and eventually landed on the disabled list, Britton has become a surprisingly good closer, recording 15 of 17 save opportunities with an earned-run average of 1.33. Going into the season, there were legitimate questions of Britton making the team if he did not earn the fifth starter job. Now, I cannot imagine this season without Britton in the backend of the bullpen, using his newfound velocity on his fastball to mystify hitters from both sides of the plate.
Biggest question for the 2nd half (BK): Can they sustain it?
At 50-41, the Orioles could conceivably play .500 baseball the rest of the way and win the American League East division. With the injury bug greatly affecting the Blue Jays (Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Brett Lawrie) and the Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka, C.C. Sabathia, Michael Pineda), the Orioles are looking better and better each day. This Orioles team still has ways to improve, but in a game of good health and least flaws, the Orioles are in first place in both categories.
Will Ubaldo continue to frustrate Orioles fans with 5 IP, 5 BB outings? Will Kevin Gausman be in this rotation for good? Will Steve Pearce continue to be the hero that Charm City needs? Or will responsibilities fall to Super Manny?
It should be a fun second half, Baltimore. Buckle Up.