Orioles Outlook – Cloudy with a Chance of Brilliance

July 14, 2012 | Hope Birchfield

Everyone held high hopes that that the Orioles would emerge from the All-Star Break with a rejuvenated fire and show the city of Baltimore some Orioles Magic. On Friday night’s game against the Tigers, Orioles’ fans watched as the pitching struggled and the offense woes continued. It became painstakingly evident that the All-Star Break was not the cure all to the pervasive problems that have recently been plaguing the team. In front of over 35,000 people who made the trek to Camden Yards, the Orioles fell 7-2 against the Detroit Tigers. Markakis was back in the lineup however, much to the relief of fans, and provided a ground rule double that brought the crowd to their feet.  Overall, the Orioles’ offense was held to six hits on two runs. Per their usual troubles, the Orioles were 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position. The true tragedy though was not the lack of offense or the fact that people cannot even remember what it looks like when J.J. Hardy actually hits the ball but rather Jason Hammel. The starting ace pitcher was forced to leave the game in the 4th after hurting his right knee. The long-term ramifications of this could be catastrophic if he is out for the season or even an extended period of time.

With Hammel’s probable DL injury, the Orioles’ starting rotation only has one pitcher from the opening day rotation, Chen. The others (Matusz, Hunter and Arrieta) are in Norfolk and though they are all performing well down there, they have also proven that they lack the consistency required of a major league pitcher.

So what are the Orioles going to do? Are they going to stand the course and clinch a Wild Card berth possibly?

The answer is “I don’t know.” Looking ahead, the Orioles have a lot of trials and tribulations to become a playoff contending team again. In the weeks leading up to the All-Star Break, nothing was going right for the Orioles. Pitching was sub par with the starters giving up run after run, then only going into the 3rd or 4th inning. The team made errors, costly ones that in some cases may have cost the game. The offense was not capitalizing on RISP when they did actually hit the ball. Those problems still remain.

Looking ahead, the Orioles have 76 games left in the regular reason with 3 series each against the Red Sox (maybe Chris Davis can pitch this one?), the Yankees and four against the Rays. There is a stretch where the Orioles get to face teams that have losing records (Twins, Mariners, Royals) but as Orioles’ fans know, losing records do not matter if a team cannot even score a run. If the current trend continues, the Orioles will not make the playoffs and will finish below .500 again.

What needs to be done?

The Orioles need to hit the ball and score runs. This is a fundamental of baseball that the Orioles are having trouble grasping. Some of our reliable stars like Hardy, Wieters and Thome, to name a few, are struggling offensively. No Oriole currently in the lineup has a batting average at .300 or better. If Hardy does not do something soon, he runs the risk of approaching the Mendoza line (where Reynolds and Thome are sitting). Slumps are difficult because there is really nothing anyone can do to expedite their duration. It is a waiting game to an extent but if players cannot perform and cannot remedy it, drastic matters need to be taken. Most people scoff when I say that maybe Hardy needs to be sent to Norfolk but my reasoning is solid. He has lost his confidence and that is apparent with every chop swing he takes. His batting average is .221 and falling. Really, how much longer can we hold out?

With a pitching rotating that has been shaky at best in the recent months, stabilization and consistency are necessary. If Hammel is out, the rest of the pitching staff needs to step up to fill those big shoes. Chen is a solid starter as he has proven throughout this year. Chris Tillman will probably make his way into the rotation. With his dominance against the Seattle Mariners, Orioles’ fans and management surely reevaluated their historical disappointment in Chris Tillman. His mechanics have improved greatly and his fastball shocked everybody when it registered 97 mph in late innings. If he can remain consistent, stay in command and continue to be unfazed by base runners, Tillman is back in the majors for some time. Zach Britton will also get the call up as he has been wheeling and dealing in Norfolk. His numbers have dramatically improved although he still has command issues despite his recent success at the Tides. Gonzales is also an option for the rotation as he provided an exceptional win and performance against the Angels. If nothing else, Gonzales has proven that he can start a game and go deep into the game (7 innings on 1 ER). The Orioles still need one more person to fill the rotation and with the trade deadline looming, it becomes less and less likely that the Orioles are making a move for someone like Greinke. The bottom line is that the pitching ideals are present in our farm systems and they simply need to be cultivated.

If we had a magic 8 ball to ask the fate of the Orioles on September 1st, what would it reveal?  

By September 1st, the Orioles will have a good idea as to whether they are going to the playoffs or going home to cry over ice cream and beer. The hopeful enthusiast in me likes to believe that this year football and baseball will both be relevant in September but the realist in me has substantial doubts. There is a lot of work to be done throughout the club to remain in contention.

September 1st is also an exciting time for minor league players to get their first taste of professional play. For those of you that do not understand, on September 1st players on the 40-man roster are eligible to play at the professional level. That means that perhaps Bundy, Oliver Drake and Steve Johnson will get their chance to shine. September is really a good time to see how development has occurred and how minor leaguers can conform to the rigorous nature of the major leagues.

Regardless of whether the Orioles make it to the playoffs or whether fans get their first glimpse at Bundy on the mound at Camden Yards, it will be an interesting September.