The Baltimore Orioles are sitting in third place in the American League East on this Memorial Day and it certainly isn’t due to a lack of offense.
Injuries will decimate any ballclub, but injuries happen. To everyone. The Orioles just have to roll with the punches like everyone else.
Look at their most recent opponent in the Toronto Blue Jays.
The team pegged as one of the potential surprises to come out of this division, has been bit by the injury bug in the lineup and pitching staff. Good teams would be able to rise up and overcome early-season adversity. Just look at what the Yankees and the Red Sox have been able to do thus far as the top two teams in the American League East.
The Blue Jays are in last because they haven’t shown the ability to persist through injuries at key positions. They also lack depth, much like the Orioles.
This 2013 Orioles roster was looked at as one that had depth… finally. There was finally a consistent rotation. There were still questions in regards to some of the spots in the order and whether or not this club was deep enough, but whenever a team returns a large chunk of its playoff roster, optimism arises.
That optimism has tapered off with the Orioles’ ability to respond to key injuries like Brian Roberts, Wei-Yin Chen and Wilson Betemit… yes, Wilson Betemit.
The batting order hasn’t been an issue, despite the club not having an everyday designated hitter, left fielder or second baseman.
The designated hitter spot is not as devastating because it gives manager Buck Showalter the freedom to rest key players in the field like center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters. The production in the first six spots of the lineup for the Orioles has been stellar and has made up for the lackluster offensive production towards the bottom, especially at second base.
The real issue remains the pitching staff. The entire staff.
The Orioles have used 11 different starting pitchers.
Need more convincing?
The Orioles are 12th in the American League in quality starts with 22. The Red Sox are 3rd. The Yankees 7th.
For those blaming the bullpen on being lackluster and cite that Buck is overworking them needs to look at the staff collectively.
Miguel Gonzalez gave the Orioles five innings of work yesterday, but the club had to burn through three relievers once again. Jim Johnson’s fourth blown save in his last five opportunities caused fans to play the blame game in his direction, but he shouldn’t be alone.
Yes, Johnson has been terrible. His inability to strike hitters out and keep the ball down has cost him dearly. He is a closer that doesn’t really have a strikeout pitch. Sure, he has a curveball and sinker ball, but his best pitch remains his two-seam fastball. That fastball has a lot of late-breaking movement, but something is just off with Johnson as of late.
What is known about Johnson is he never has been one to strike hitters out or overpower them.
Last season, Johnson led Major League Baseball with 51 saves. However, he only struck out 41 batters.
This is a guy that relies on keeping the ball low and his defense to make the plays behind him. The Orioles have the defensive prowess, even without an everyday second baseman, so that isn’t the reason for his struggles.
Maybe he is being overworked. 25 appearances at the 50 game mark in the season means he is on pace to appear in 81 games this season. It’s not bad to have your stopper in a lot of situations, but does that tarnish his ability, and the rest of the bullpen’s ability, to finish out a deep postseason run?
The starting pitching has to be partially to blame as well. Constant shuffling of the pitchers between Norfolk and Baltimore never gives the guys enough time to adjust to Major League hitting. Yes, guys like Zach Britton and Jake Arrieta have been given numerous opportunities at the highest level and have failed, but there has to come a point in time when the lease just gets longer.
This rotation was full of No. 2 and No. 3 starters to begin with. There is no real “ace” and there hasn’t been. Jason Hammel has been the best pitcher of record, but Chris Tillman is the one with the most quality starts. His stat-line is somewhat reminiscent of former Orioles starter and now Kansas City Royals pitcher Jeremy Guthrie in that the innings and strikeouts are there, but the run support or bullpen help isn’t.
And Kevin Gausman will not save this staff this year. His stuff is dynamite, but he still has a lot of learning to do.
Tsuyoshi Wada or Dylan Bundy can’t salvage the situation either.
When the Orioles decided in the offseason that these were the guys they wanted to go with, they showed that they were willing to play the matchups and roll with the punches within their own organization.
A trade toward the deadline is certainly not out of the question, but the Orioles have to look across the staff and say to themselves, “We have to simply do better.”
(Photo courtesy of Frank Gunn)