Tag Archive | "Buck Showalter"

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Out-of-sync Orioles in danger of falling out of AL East race

Posted on 01 September 2016 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t help but cringe at the pitching matchups as the Orioles returned home to begin a critical three-game set with Toronto on Monday.

Wade Miley, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Yovani Gallardo going up against the Blue Jays’ three best starters? Even the most optimistic of Baltimore fans feared it could get ugly at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Instead, the embattled trio turned in three quality starts against the second-highest scoring offense in the American League. And the Orioles still lost two of three to the division leader to fall four games back in the AL East.

The term “must-win” is one of the most overused descriptors in sports, but that series win was one that Buck Showalter’s club surely wanted to have, especially playing at home where the Orioles have looked quite mortal over the last few weeks. It’s just been that kind of a second half as Baltimore fell into a tie with Detroit for the final wild card spot on Wednesday.

Trying to hold on, but seemingly losing their grip bit by bit as the summer transitions into fall. Out of sync and trying to avoid falling out of a tough division race in which Toronto and Boston aren’t going anywhere. A wild-card spot that appeared likely now looks in doubt with the likes of Detroit, Houston, and Kansas City surging.

The pitching remains the biggest concern — even two of the top three bullpen arms surrendered runs in Wednesday’s 5-3 loss — but an offense that thrived in the first half has been among the worst in the league since the All-Star break. Sure, the Orioles still hit home runs — they tied the major league record for long balls in August with 55 after hitting a record 56 in June — but they’ve all but stopped doing anything else offensively.

Remember how Baltimore ranked third in the AL with a .333 on-base percentage in the first half? Those more disciplined at-bats and the willingness to draw a few more walks have evaporated with the Orioles ranking last in the AL with a .293 OBP in the 46 games since then. They rank 12th in runs scored since the break despite continuing to lead the league in home runs, illustrating how much more dependent on long balls they’ve become to score runs as the season has progressed.

We knew all along that the Orioles lineup was constructed to win with the home run, but the all-or-nothing outcomes are as extreme as ever. Consider Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo, who have combined to hit 22 home runs and bat .180 in 305 at-bats since the break. They haven’t been alone in the second-half struggles, but you just aren’t going to consistently score runs with that kind of production from your No. 4 and No. 5 hitters.

Because the offense produced at such a high level over the first half of the season, it’s still reasonable to think — at least hope? — a prolonged hot streak could be right around the corner.

But then we come back to the pitching, which ranks 13th among 15 AL clubs. Other than the first few weeks after the All-Star break when the rotation performed at a respectable level — and the offense failed to capitalize — you just can’t trust this starting pitching, especially with Chris Tillman unlikely to return before the middle of September. The bullpen continues to wilt without Darren O’Day, who is just now working out the final remnants of discomfort in his right shoulder.

The Orioles will say they were encouraged by the way Miley, Jimenez, and Gallardo pitched against the Blue Jays this week, but that kind of success feels more like an aberration than a breakthrough for the final month.

Despite exceeding expectations for most of the season, this club just isn’t firing on all cylinders and hasn’t been for quite some time. When the rotation does offer a stretch of decent outings, the offense fails to do its job. When the bats are lively, the pitching struggles to even be competitive. Or, neither phase performs well and it gets downright ugly.

On Wednesday, executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette added Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn, veterans who can help the abysmal outfield defense late in games and add some speed off the bench. Maybe these spare parts will help spark a struggling club, but the Orioles simply look like a team struggling to keep their heads above water these days.

The losing spells have been more frequent while the good times have been fleeting. In the first four months of the season, the Orioles had three seven-game winning streaks, two five-game winning streaks, and a four-game winning streak. In August, they won as many as three in a row just once while dropping three straight on three separate occasions.

Going just 21-25 since the All-Star break, the Orioles have been trying to hold on, but they’ll need to do more than that in September to secure their third trip to the postseason in the last five years.

You should never count out the Orioles under Showalter with so much baseball left to play, but an increasingly one-dimensional offense, a poor starting rotation, and a bullpen short on trustworthy arms aren’t inspiring confidence in the final month of the season.

It’s just not looking good.

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Tillman goes to DL after more shoulder concerns

Posted on 23 August 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Wednesday 4:15 p.m)

BALTIMORE — Coming off his worst start of the season and experiencing more right shoulder discomfort during his latest bullpen session, Orioles starting pitcher Chris Tillman was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday.

Manager Buck Showalter said before Tuesday’s 8-1 win over Washington that the right-hander’s work day hadn’t gone well and that his next scheduled start against the Nationals was in jeopardy. On Saturday, the right-hander allowed six earned runs and walked five over a season-low two innings, but he said after the game that his shoulder was fine and told the training staff the following morning that it felt better than it usually does the day after a start.

Tillman received a cortisone injection after being examined by Dr. Leigh Ann Curl at Camden Yards. Showalter confirmed after the game that the 28-year-old would land on the DL in hopes that the rest will allow him to return at the end of the minimum 15-day period.

“I would have liked a little better results or response from the last outing, but it just didn’t respond very well,” Tillman said. ” We’re trying to be safe and get this thing in the rear-view mirror. That way, I’m not fighting it all year. I think it’s probably the best way to go about it.”

His last start was pushed back three days due to shoulder soreness that Tillman said he first experienced the morning after his Aug. 11 outing in Oakland.

Entering Tuesday ranked 12th in the American League with a 4.97 rotation ERA, the Orioles can hardly afford to lose their best starting pitcher in the midst of a tight division race with Toronto and Boston. Tillman is 15-5 with a 3.76 ERA in 26 starts covering 153 innings this season.

The Orioles recalled right-hander Mike Wright to replace Tillman on the 25-man roster and announced that right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez would start on Thursday.

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Orioles send struggling backup catcher Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Needing to reinstate starting catcher Matt Wieters from the paternity leave list prior to Monday’s series opener against the Washington Nationals, the Orioles demoted backup Caleb Joseph to Triple-A Norfolk.

In an effort to get Joseph some regular at-bats to right his dismal season at the plate, Baltimore elected to keep catcher Francisco Pena on the 25-man roster to back up Wieters for the time being. In 121 plate appearances, Joseph is hitting just .193 with two extra-base hits, no RBIs, and a .450 on-base plus slugging percentage.

He is eligible to return as early as Sept. 1 when major league rosters expand.

“We’d like to get him some at-bats, consistently, with Matt back,” said manager Buck Showalter, who made it clear that Joseph remains in the club’s plans moving forward. “In fact, he would have caught tonight if Matt wasn’t back. We’ve got an opportunity to get him 10 days of at-bats [with] some things he’s been working on. Get him back.

“He probably would have caught maybe once here in those 10 days, maybe twice. We just thought the benefit would be better there. He doesn’t lose any service time or anything. He’ll be back in 10 days.”

In 39 plate appearances this season, Pena has hit .222 with one homer and three RBIs. He filled in as the club’s backup catcher throughout the month of June after Joseph took a foul ball to the groin area and had to undergo emergency testicular surgery on May 30.

Joseph’s intense struggles at the plate this year are quite a change from last year when he hit .234 with 11 home runs, 49 RBIs, and a .693 on-base plus slugging percentage. In 2014, he filled in admirably after Wieters was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and batted .207 with nine homers, 28 RBIs, and a .618 OPS as a rookie.

He has been an above-average defensive catcher in the majors despite not having the best reputation in that department during his minor-league career, but the Orioles want to get his bat going for the stretch run.

“This guy’s got a pretty good track record, offensively, behind him,” Showalter said. “He’s a better hitter than he’s shown here, and I think sometimes it gets kind of mentally and emotionally in there. Caleb’s driven in some big runs for us, and he’s been a nice guy to have down in the bottom of the order. If you relax on him, he’s a guy you like to see coming up with people on base.

“We’ve just got to get him back to that. How do you do it? Sitting around playing once every 10 days? It doesn’t work too good.”

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Long, painful week for Orioles ends with no relief

Posted on 22 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles had a chance to stop the bleeding on Sunday after a difficult 1-4 start to an eight-game homestand.

Waiting out a rain delay of more than four hours on the heels of two of their worst losses of the season, the Orioles watched first-place Toronto squander another late lead in a loss at Cleveland. Second-place Boston fell hard in Detroit. Even Seattle — who entered the day one game behind Baltimore for the second wild-card spot — blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning to lose to lowly Milwaukee.

A victory in the finale of the four-game set with Houston would have shrunk the Orioles’ American League East deficit to just 1 1/2 games and increased their lead over the Mariners. It wasn’t a must-win game, but it represented a valuable opportunity to salvage a four-game split, exhale, and regroup after allowing an unseemly 27 runs to the Astros the previous two nights.

Yovani Gallardo gave the Orioles exactly what they needed after poor performances by Wade Miley, Chris Tillman, and a host of long relievers had decimated the bullpen to the point that infielder Ryan Flaherty pitched the ninth inning of Saturday’s loss. Enduring two different rain delays, Gallardo allowed one run over the first four innings on Sunday.

Then, the fifth came.

Two-time Gold Glove third baseman Manny Machado bobbled a chopper off the bat of Teoscar Hernandez for an error to begin the inning. Four batters later, a Carlos Correa line drive to right-center went off the glove of right fielder Chris Davis for a two-run double that would give the Astros a 4-1 lead. Manager Buck Showalter said after the game that his normal first baseman had lost the ball in the lights, but the two defensive miscues led to three runs for Houston.

The bottom of the fifth wasn’t much better as Adam Jones singled home Nolan Reimold to make it a 4-2 deficit, but the center fielder overslid second base as he advanced on the throw home and was then tagged out, ending the inning and adding a baserunning mistake to the poor defense in the top half of frame.

Taking nothing away from a strong eight-inning performance by 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, the Orioles cost themselves dearly in that fateful inning. Of course, it didn’t help that the bats largely fell silent again after the Baltimore pitching hadn’t given them much of a chance on Friday or Saturday.

Gallardo deserved better over his seven solid innings of work, but the Orioles have done whatever it takes to lose on this current homestand. In a two-game sweep against Boston, little went right across the board. After a 13-5 blowout victory over the Astros in the series opener, the Orioles made major league history Friday night by homering four times before recording a single out and amazingly lost by seven as Miley and the bullpen surrendered a combined 15 runs.

Despite falling to just 11 games over .500 for the first time since June 22, the math tells you the Orioles are still in fine shape and only a modest winning streak away from potentially being back in first place. But it doesn’t feel that way with a maddeningly inconsistent offense, a shorthanded bullpen, and a starting rotation reverting to its first-half form after showing some improvement since the All-Star break.

Since a four-game winning streak in which they swept Cleveland and won the opener of a series with Colorado to improve to an AL-best 58-40 on July 25, the Orioles have gone 9-16 and have been passed by both the Blue Jays and the Red Sox in the division.

It isn’t panic time yet, but losing the final three games against Houston — a team that came to Baltimore having lost four in a row and 13 of its previous 19 — felt alarmingly reminiscent of last year’s four-game home sweep to Minnesota that led to a stretch of 12 losses in 13 games ending any real chance of making the postseason. Of course, the Orioles are in better position now than last year at that point, but their 2016 season appears to be at a crossroads.

The offense has slumped for the better part of six weeks now, once again too dependent on the home run. Dating back to the last West Coast trip, the last six hits apiece from Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo have all been homers, illustrating the largely all-or-nothing performance from the lineup.

The health of No. 1 starter Chris Tillman remains in question despite him saying his shoulder felt fine after his worst start of the season on Saturday. Acquired at the deadline to fortify the rotation, Miley is sporting a 9.53 ERA in his four starts with the Orioles.

The bullpen is once again without Darren O’Day, who doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a strained rotator cuff. Closer Zach Britton has been nothing short of brilliant all year, but getting to him is becoming increasingly difficult with fellow All-Star reliever Brad Brach struggling since the break.

The Orioles had been nearly invincible at Camden Yards this season in winning 70 percent of their games there, but they no longer have the best home mark in the majors after dropping six of their last seven in Baltimore.

No, things aren’t always as bad as they seem when a team is struggling like the Orioles are right now. The good news is that they didn’t lose any ground Sunday with their competitors all falling.

But instead of stopping the bleeding and starting to reverse their recent fortunes, the wound grew deeper in another frustrating loss.

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After promising stretch, Orioles pitching again looking too vulnerable

Posted on 17 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Orioles pitching staff appeared to be turning a corner not long ago.

Despite a maddening offensive slump that led to three straight losses in Oakland last week, the starting rotation had rattled off seven straight quality starts as the latest sign of its second-half improvement. There had been some hiccups here and there from the bullpen, but Darren O’Day had finally returned a couple weeks before and the group still led the American League in ERA.

All the Orioles needed was their all-too-powerful offense to awaken from its second-half slumber and they’d seemingly be ready to take off at the right time in an all-too-tight AL East battle with Toronto and Boston.

Then, word came over the weekend that O’Day was dealing with a strained rotator cuff that required a cortisone injection and another trip to the disabled list. Manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that the hope is for the veteran right-hander to be ready to return at the end of the minimum 15-day DL period, but a shoulder issue is one of the last things you want for a pitcher, particularly one as important as O’Day to Baltimore’s success over the last five years.

Making matters worse are the recent struggles of All-Star setup man Brad Brach, who pitched incredibly well during O’Day’s extended absence earlier in the season. The right-hander gave up the deciding two-run homer to Boston’s Mookie Betts in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to elevate his ERA to 4.50 in 12 innings of work since the All-Star break. It would have been unfair to expect Brach to maintain the microscopic 0.91 ERA he posted in 49 1/3 innings in the first half, but you do wonder if such a stressful workload and some simple regression to the mean are catching up to him down the stretch.

If they’re to endure this latest O’Day absence, the Orioles need Brach to find his first-half form sooner rather than later.

Of course, Showalter revealing Tuesday night that 15-game winner Chris Tillman would not pitch on Wednesday due to shoulder soreness creates more restlessness. Tillman is currently slated to start against Houston on Saturday, but there is clearly enough concern to scratch your ace from a critical game against the AL East foe who just pulled even with the Orioles for second place in the division.

Dylan Bundy will now try to continue his impressive run as a starter against the highest-scoring offense in the major leagues.

It could all be fine with Tillman making that Saturday start without any issue and a rested and healthy O’Day returning to action before the end of the month, but executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette should be feeling more urgency to fortify the pitching staff ahead of the waiver trade deadline in two weeks. At the very least, the Orioles would benefit from another reliable reliever to ease the burden on Brach and Mychal Givens in trying to bridge the gap to All-Star closer Zach Britton.

Right now, the remainder of the bullpen consists of three long relievers — Vance Worley, Tyler Wilson, and the seldom-used Ubaldo Jimenez — and unproven left-hander Donnie Hart. The Orioles entered Tuesday’s game still sporting an AL-leading 3.15 bullpen ERA, but the parts just don’t breed confidence right now.

Doubts have persisted all year about the pitching, but the latest developments aren’t doing the Orioles any favors.

The offense rising to the occasion like it did in the first half would surely quell concerns, but the Orioles can only hope that a couple of sore shoulders won’t derail what’s been a surprisingly strong season.

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Orioles shift Davis to right field for opener of Boston series

Posted on 16 August 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Less than two hours before the series opener against Boston on Tuesday, the Orioles made some interesting defensive changes to their originally-posted lineup.

Presumably wanting to improve his overall defensive alignment, manager Buck Showalter shifted first baseman Chris Davis to right field, designated hitter Steve Pearce to first base, and right fielder Mark Trumbo to the DH spot. With Trumbo’s limitations in the outfield not exactly a secret and the Red Sox using five left-handed batters against Orioles starter Yovani Gallardo, Davis brings more athleticism to right. Pearce is also considered an above-average defensive first baseman, meaning there should be little to no drop-off in moving Davis out of the position.

Before the flexor mass tendon in his right arm flared up last week, Pearce appeared on track to start in right field with Trumbo serving as the DH against left-handed starters. It remains unclear when Pearce’s elbow will be healthy enough to play the outfield again, but he is apparently able to play first base where the need to make high-stress throws is usually limited.

Of course, playing right field isn’t completely foreign to Davis, who has made 57 career starts there and 29 last season. His last start at the position came on Sept. 8, 2015.

Davis made 28 starts in right field in 2012 in place of an injured Nick Markakis and even started there in the postseason.

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Orioles come home from long road trip with good feeling

Posted on 14 August 2016 by Luke Jones

It would have been easy for the Orioles to mail it in when they fell behind 7-1 in San Francisco on Sunday.

Playing the final game of a long 10-day road trip — the last seven days in the Bay Area — and still a cross-country flight away from their second day off since the All-Star break, the Orioles looked like a team largely going through the motions for several innings as starter Wade Miley allowed six earned runs and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning. The defense wasn’t sharp, and the Baltimore lineup was retired on a total of 15 pitches from Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto in the third and fourth innings.

You could hardly blame fans who might have turned the channel or elected to enjoy an early-evening nap at that point, but they missed something special as the Orioles bounced back to score seven times over the final three innings with the exclamation point being a Jonathan Schoop three-run homer with two outs in the ninth. Whether this is remembered as a season-defining win remains to be seen — Orioles manager Buck Showalter loves to cite Earl Weaver’s adage of momentum being as good as the next game’s starting pitcher — but a 5-5 road trip feels much better than a 4-6 mark for a club that’s struggled on the road all season.

There was something fitting about Schoop finishing off the colossal comeback with a three-run homer on what would have been the late Hall of Fame manager’s 86th birthday.

The Orioles owned just one win when trailing after eight innings all season, but they did secure their 34th comeback victory of 2016, third most in the majors. As flawed as they might be and as quickly as many want to dismiss their playoff chances at any sign of trouble, these Orioles under Showalter continue to be as resilient as they come.

They now return home and will play 25 of their final 45 games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where their 39-17 record has made them the best home team in the majors in 2016. That’s certainly good news for a club that needed a miraculous Sunday win to improve to 27-34 on the road.

All but 10 of those remaining games come against teams currently holding winning records, but the Orioles have fewer remaining road contests than either Toronto or Boston, an advantage over the final seven weeks of the regular season.

The Orioles have obvious flaws, but they’ve spent all season in first or second place and have provided more joy than frustration in a season in which outside expectations weren’t all that great at the start.

A loss hardly would have meant the sky was falling, but the showing wasn’t pretty for much of Sunday. Then, the Orioles reminded us what we should have already remembered countless times over the last five years.

You don’t doubt their resiliency or effort.

Bullpen pick-me-up

Lost in Schoop’s heroics on Sunday was a good bullpen performance of 4 2/3 scoreless innings a day after right-hander Darren O’Day was officially placed on the disabled list with a rotator cuff strain.

The perfect eighth from All-Star setup man Brad Brach was particularly encouraging after the right-hander entered Sunday with a 3.60 ERA since the All-Star break and a 5.40 mark in August. As they did when O’Day was sidelined with a hamstring injury for nearly two months earlier in the season, the Orioles will lean heavily on Brach to turn the ball over to All-Star closer Zach Britton, who improved to 37-for-37 in 2016 save chances on Sunday.

It will be challenging enough to weather another O’Day absence, but the Orioles need Brach to get on a roll again if the bullpen has any chance of continuing to own the best ERA in the AL.

Pearce injury

Hitting for reliever Donnie Hart, Steve Pearce just missed hitting a three-run homer in the eighth inning as he was able to come off the bench for a second straight day after missing five days of action.

A flexor mass strain in his right elbow is bound to limit Pearce’s ability to play defense the rest of the way, but the Orioles desperately need his bat against left-handed pitching. Baltimore is hitting .234 with a .690 on-base plus slugging percentage against left-handers and will see a pair of southpaw starters — Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price — in a two-game set with the Red Sox beginning Tuesday.

Pearce is hitting .339 with an 1.104 OPS against lefties this season.

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Bundy starts rapidly becoming appointment viewing for Orioles fans

Posted on 03 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Dylan Bundy isn’t the only rookie pitcher to start fast for the Orioles over the last 15 years.

Check out what Josh Towers did in his first handful of major league starts in 2001.

Brad Bergesen was Baltimore’s best starter in 2009.

Even Mike Wright tossed 14 1/3 scoreless innings in his first two major league starts last year.

But this time, it looks and feels different. We long heard the hype surrounding the 2011 first-round pick and waited five years to see the young right-hander finally have the chance to perform on this stage — not counting his cup of coffee as a 19-year-old in 2012 — after three years’ worth of health problems.

After taking no-hitters into the sixth inning in back-to-back outings, Bundy is rapidly turning his starts into appointment viewing for fans while giving the Orioles a fantastic chance to win when he pitches. Asked whether he was disappointed or relieved — knowing Bundy’s pitch count wouldn’t reasonably allow him to go the distance — to see Elvis Andrus single to break up the no-hit bid in the sixth, Buck Showalter chuckled as he quipped that he’d never tell. The manager then admitted the seventh inning still would have been Bundy’s last regardless of whether a no-hitter was intact or not.

You can’t help but wonder if a similar question extends to the terrific way Bundy has pitched as he moves closer to a presumed innings limit that no one in the organization wants to discuss in any detail. How could the Orioles possibly take him out of play while fighting for the American League East title? But how can they responsibly allow Bundy to pitch into September and potentially October after he threw a combined 65 1/3 innings the previous three seasons?

Any decision to shut him down would sure be easier if his results were underwhelming, but the Orioles are obviously thrilled with the immediate return in helping a poor rotation.

Bundy has been brilliant since the end of May when the Orioles began giving him at least three days’ rest between relief appearances. In his last 40 innings dating back to May 31, the 23-year-old has posted a 2.25 ERA with 34 hits allowed, 47 strikeouts, six home runs surrendered, and only nine walks.

He was unaware that Tuesday marked the longest outing of his professional career, surpassing the 6 2/3 innings he threw for Single-A Frederick at Lynchburg on Aug. 1, 2012. His game score of 81 matched Tyler Wilson’s eight shutout innings at Boston on June 16 as the highest of the season by an Orioles starter.

Any pitcher can have a good start, but Bundy’s command is impeccable as he consistently hits the catcher’s glove within the strike zone. It’s all impressive, the mid-90s fastball, the slow curve, the terrific changeup that he didn’t begin throwing until four years ago. Of his 88 pitches on Tuesday, 60 were strikes and he walked just one batter while striking out seven.

As we’ve now seen for a couple months, Bundy appears to have the rare ability to make an incredibly difficult task look relatively easy. Of course, we know it won’t always be as easy as he’s made it look.

He’s only had four major league starts, but there’s a growing buzz inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards whenever he pitches. You just pray that he stays healthy and that the Orioles don’t completely lose sight of what’s best for him while focusing on the present pennant race.

There can be a today as long as the Orioles remember there is a tomorrow with Bundy and do whatever they can to help him continue on with good health.

The organization has long felt that he has the ability to be the true ace its lacked since the days of Mike Mussina. Bundy still has a long way to go, but seven innings of one-hit ball against an imposing lineup was another flash of that talent as more and more fans are anticipating what will happen with each start.

After his potential felt much more like a ghost over the last couple years, Bundy is here in the flesh and turning heads.

Teammate Darren O’Day might have said it best in summarizing Bundy’s growth from the beginning of the season until now.

“We enjoyed the time we had with him in the bullpen, but I think he’s moved on to better things.”

The Orioles have a good problem on their hands.

And fans can’t wait to see what happens next.

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Orioles add to depth by bringing back Pearce for stretch run

Posted on 01 August 2016 by Luke Jones

Trying to strengthen their depth for the final two months, the Orioles brought back an old friend at the trade deadline.

Minutes before the 4 p.m. non-waiver deadline, executive vice president baseball of operations acquired first baseman and outfielder Steve Pearce from Tampa Bay in exchange for minor-league catcher Jonah Heim. Pearce had spent the last four seasons with Baltimore before signing a one-year, $4.75 million deal with the Rays last winter.

Much like he was with the Orioles in 2014 when he hit .293 with 21 home runs and a .930 on-base plus slugging percentage, Pearce has been a standout performer this season, hitting .309 with 10 homers, 29 RBIs, and a .908 OPS in 232 plate appearances. The 33-year-old also brings plenty of versatility as he played first, second, and third base for Tampa Bay this season and has played extensively at the corner outfield spots in the past.

The Orioles had been in the market for another outfielder since the thumb injury suffered by rookie outfielder Joey Rickard last month. In 2016, Pearce has hit .377 with a 1.212 OPS against left-handed pitching while Baltimore has hit .236 with a .699 OPS against southpaws.

It will be interesting to see how manager Buck Showalter uses Pearce as he would appear to be a logical platoon partner with left fielder Hyun Soo Kim. However, Pearce would also provide a defensive upgrade to Mark Trumbo in right field and would allow the latter to serve as the designated hitter more often.

Heim, 21, is a good defensive catcher, but questions remained about how his offense would translate to higher levels of professional baseball. The 2013 fourth-round pick was batting .216 with 14 doubles, one triple, seven homers, and 30 RBIs over 88 games with Single-A Frederick this season.

The Orioles could still stand to add another bullpen arm — preferably a left-hander — but that would appear to be a realistic goal before the waiver deadline at the end of August.

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Despite difficult July, Orioles should still feel good about chances

Posted on 01 August 2016 by Luke Jones

July wasn’t much fun for the Orioles.

Sure, there was a five-game winning streak that included a sweep of Cleveland to temporarily give Baltimore the best record in the American League only a week ago, but the frustration certainly outweighed the prosperity. After just one losing streak as long as four games over the first three months of the season, the Orioles suffered three stretches of four or more losses in July alone.

A historic June in which the Orioles hit a record 56 home runs and averaged a whopping 6.6 runs per game was followed by a July in which they scored 3.4 runs per contest, which was 13th in the AL. The offensive futility has been even worse since the All-Star break at just 2.9 scored per game, which is last in the league.

Yet Buck Showalter’s club still turned the calendar to August in first place. A 12-14 record in July shrunk the Orioles’ AL East lead from five games at the beginning of the month to just a half-game — they did briefly fall out of first on two different occasions — but the win-loss mark was hardly catastrophic when you realize how poorly Baltimore hitters fared by on-base plus slugging percentage over the last month when the club sported a minus-26 run differential.

July OPS Season OPS
Matt Wieters .327 .678
Chris Davis .543 .783
Jonathan Schoop .714 .808
J.J. Hardy .841 .720
Manny Machado .625 .908
Hyun Soo Kim .679 .851
Adam Jones .719 .769
Mark Trumbo .784 .863
Pedro Alvarez .824 .775

A 12-14 record feels pretty fortunate when examining just how ugly the numbers were, especially from three All-Star players in Wieters, Davis, and Machado. Davis’ struggles have predictably received plenty of attention, but Wieters going 7-for-60 with only one extra-base hit is just alarming.

Only two regulars — Hardy and Alvarez — outperformed their season OPS, which means the Orioles are certainly due to bounce back significantly. That’s not to say another onslaught resembling June is on the way, but there’s no reason to think the Orioles offense won’t perform closer to the 5.1 runs scored per game in the first half of 2016 than the scuffling group we’ve seen since the All-Star break.

There are just too many good track records in that bunch.

Of course, the starting pitching remains the bigger question mark going forward.

After posting a 5.15 starter ERA in the first half, the Orioles rotation has pitched to a more acceptable 4.28 mark in the 17 games since the break. The rotation performing closer to that second-half mark the rest of the way would be key in not only wearing out a superb bullpen but keeping Baltimore in good position come late September.

The addition of left-hander Wade Miley should bring some more stability behind Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman, but how the Orioles manage the workload of the talented Dylan Bundy and account for the inability of Yovani Gallardo to pitch deep into games will be worth monitoring.

The Orioles certainly don’t feel great about their July, but the results in the win-loss column could have been much worse. The mark of good clubs is finding a way to not let the inevitable tough times spiral out of control as the 2015 club did with a 1-12 stretch in late August that took them out of serious contention.

Immediately after their first two losing streaks of four or more games in July, the Orioles rebounded to win six of seven and five in a row, respectively. We’ll see if that trend continues when the Texas Rangers arrive in town for a three-game set beginning Tuesday.

The Orioles have mostly weathered the storm of a prolonged offensive slump without losing too much ground in their quest for the postseason. Now the Orioles just need their talented bats to awaken in August while hoping the recent improvement — as modest as it might be — with the starting rotation continues.

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