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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 3-1 loss to Colorado

Posted on 28 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Wednesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 100th game of the 2016 season.

1st — The recent offensive woes continued as the Orioles went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings alone. Baltimore entered Wednesday averaging just 3.5 runs per game in July and only 2.9 per contest since the All-Star break, but there were plenty of opportunities against Rockies starter Jon Gray in the middle innings. In the fourth, Manny Machado popped out to shallow left with runners at the corners and no outs and Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop later failed to deliver with the bases loaded. An inning later, J.J. Hardy, Nolan Reimold, and Adam Jones squandered a leadoff double. Gray is talented and was the third overall pick of the 2013 draft, but this was a winnable game with even a decent offensive showing. Virtually everyone in the order has had his share of recent struggles, but Chris Davis has one hit in his last 27 at-bats while Trumbo is hitless in his last 17 at-bats. The Orioles need to get their offense going quickly with a three-game set in Toronto looming this weekend after the one-day trip to Minnesota for a makeup game on Thursday.

2nd — Dylan Bundy turned in a special performance that was only tainted by two changeups up in the strike zone that went for home runs in his final inning of work. The 23-year-old’s outing was electric as he retired the first 16 hitters he faced and struck out a career-high eight, creating quite a buzz at Camden Yards in only his third major league start. However, the lack of run support did Bundy no favors as he ran into trouble in the sixth inning. After issuing a one-out walk to Mark Reynolds to lose his perfect game, Bundy elevated a changeup that former Oriole Nick Hundley deposited into the left-field seats for the first runs of the night. Two batters later, rookie David Dahl jumped on a first-pitch changeup up in the zone for a homer to dead center. The sequence was a reminder that Bundy is still a work in progress as it relates to a full starter’s workload, but 15 swinging strikes on 89 pitches illustrated how effective he was until running out of gas. Home runs aside, he deserved better from his own offense.

3rd — A couple questionable replay reviews may not have decided the outcome of the game, but Matt Wieters appeared to hit a home run down the right-field line that was ruled foul as he led off in the third inning. We’ve seen multiple balls directly down the line and higher than the foul pole causing problems at Camden Yards this season. Whether the solution is to extend the pole higher, find a way to improve the TV camera angle down the line, or both, something needs to be done to help make calls more definitive on these towering flies that have often looked fair despite being called foul on the field and replay not being definitive enough to overturn the ruling. Manager Buck Showalter was not happy with how that one played out and hasn’t been with a couple others this year.

Home — It was a close call, but Wieters being thrown out at second trying to stretch a single into a double was a bad play with the Orioles trailing by two runs in the seventh. What made it even more painful was Hardy drawing a walk right behind him, which would have meant the tying runs were on base. … The Orioles dropped only their second home series of the season and first since losing two of three to Seattle from May 17-19. … Manny Machado slugged his 21st home run of the season in the sixth inning while Wieters recorded the 150th double of his career in the fifth. … Davis ended an 0-for-24 streak with a bunt single in the second inning. … Ubaldo Jimenez will make his first start — and first appearance — since July 8 on Thursday while the Twins send right-hander Kyle Gibson to the mound at Target Field.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 6-3 loss to Colorado

Posted on 27 July 2016 by Luke Jones

What went wrong in the Orioles’ 6-3 defeat to the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night?

In trying to identify the top three losing factors with the addition of home plate for any not-so-honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 99th game of the 2016 season.

1st — After spoiling the Orioles with an outstanding 1.29 ERA in four July starts, Chris Tillman just couldn’t put away hitters with two strikes in the four-run third inning. The right-hander appeared to be carrying good stuff early, but he ran into trouble with one out in the third as Colorado loaded the bases with three singles all coming with two strikes. After Nolan Arenado popped out, Carlos Gonzalez hit a two-run double to the opposite field on a 2-2 count and Trevor Story singled in two more runs on a 1-2 pitch. Tillman credited Colorado for hitting some good pitches, but he got a couple key pitches up and just didn’t have the good swing-and-miss slider that we’ve seen so many times in 2016. His six runs allowed matched his season high as he took just his third loss of the season.

2nd — Rockies starter Chad Bettis effectively used his sinker and hard slider, and the Orioles just couldn’t take advantage of the few opportunities they had against a pitcher who entered the night with a 5.31 ERA. Going 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position is rarely going to get the job done unless you’re hitting the long ball, but the No. 3 through No. 8 hitters went a combined 1-for-23 with one walk. On a rare off-night for Tillman, you would have liked to see his offense be able to pick him up.

3rd — He wasn’t the only one who struggled on Tuesday night, but Chris Davis continues to look lost at the plate. The first baseman is hitless in his last 24 at-bats and has seen his average plummet to .223. His most frustrating at-bat came in the eighth with runners at the corners, one out, and the Orioles trailing 6-2. After getting ahead 2-0 against lefty reliever Boone Logan, Davis expanded the strike zone and struck out on the next three pitches. Of course, we’ve seen Davis go through plenty of stretches like this in the past before going on a monster tear, but you wonder if a day off to clear his head might help.

Home — It was correctly ruled a wild pitch, but Matt Wieters failed to backhand a pitch that could have been blocked, allowing Colorado’s sixth and final run to score. … The Orioles saw their five-game winning streak snapped as they suffered their first loss at home since July 8. They had won six straight contests at Camden Yards. … Adam Jones hit a two-run homer in the fifth and walked twice as he’s already eclipsed his walk total from 2015. … In his return from the disabled list, Hyun Soo Kim went 1-for-3 with a walk and now owns a .412 on-base percentage to lead the team. … Tyler Wilson pitched four perfect innings of relief to save the rest of the bullpen after Tillman lasted only five innings. … Buck Showalter announced that Ubaldo Jimenez will make Thursday’s start in Minnesota as the manager wants to give the other members of his rotation an extra day of rest. … Dylan Bundy will take the hill on Wednesday in search of a series win while right-hander Jon Gray will start for Colorado.

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With trade options limited, recent rotation surge encouraging for Orioles

Posted on 25 July 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 10:30 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — The Orioles clearly want starting pitching help.

We can certainly debate to what degree they need more starting pitching as Baltimore entered Monday holding the best record in the American League despite a 4.91 rotation ERA ranking 24th in the majors.

But we should be realistic about this final week leading up to Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline. There isn’t much out there, plenty of contenders are looking for starters, and the Orioles have few commodities to give up unless they’re planning to surrender impact talent from their current roster, which doesn’t sound all that appealing when you’re trying to improve.

These realities don’t excuse the Orioles, who knew they had rotation problems entering the offseason before letting their 2015 ace, Wei-Yin Chen, depart via free agency and replacing him with Yovani Gallardo, who’s dealt with shoulder issues that were first flagged during his February physical and eventually landed him on the disabled list in April after only four starts. The options may not have been plentiful this winter, but no one can say the Orioles’ Achilles heel is remotely surprising a few months later.

There just isn’t a whole lot to be done about it right now.

“We’re going to try to add to our rotation,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said over the weekend. “We need some more consistency from the guys we have here, and we’re going to try to add to it via the trade route. This is a really thin market. There’s a lot of teams chasing a few pitchers. It’s about as thin as I’ve ever seen the market, but we’re going to see what we can do.”

It remains to be seen whether Duquette can deliver a starter who represents a marked upgrade over what the Orioles already have — forgive me if I’m not doing cartwheels over the likes of San Diego’s Andrew Cashner — but the executive was right about the need to find some improvement from within. That’s what has made the start of the second half uplifting for Baltimore.

In their first 10 games since the All-Star break, the Orioles have posted a 3.03 starter ERA after a robust 5.15 mark in the season’s first 87 contests. It’s a very small sample that includes seven games against two light-hitting clubs — Tampa Bay and the New York Yankees — but six starts of six or more innings have allowed manager Buck Showalter to rest a little easier of late.

The rotation isn’t fixed, but you’ll take any positives you can find after the first half.

Arguably the club’s most valuable player behind Manny Machado, ace Chris Tillman has rebounded from a rocky June with four straight starts in which he’s lasted seven innings and allowed only one run to lower his season ERA to a tidy 3.18. Kevin Gausman has also elevated his performance as the No. 2 starter, surrendering two runs and striking out 13 over his two starts covering 13 1/3 innings since the break.

After signing him to a two-year, $22 million contract, the Orioles desperately want to see Gallardo as their true No. 3 starter in a perfect world, but the questions about his ability to pitch deep into games haven’t disappeared despite back-to-back outings last at least 6 2/3 innings. His track record makes provides optimism that he can build on what he’s done over the last week.

But what we witnessed on Friday and Sunday provides some hope beyond the clearly-defined top two and Gallardo in the rotation. These names aren’t definitive rotation answers, but we’ll call them “maybes” for right now.

Facing a Cleveland offense currently ranking third in the AL — and ahead of the Orioles — in runs scored, Dylan Bundy allowed only one unearned run in five strong innings in the series-opening win. You can’t cross your fingers any harder that the 23-year-old will stay healthy and that the Orioles will take care of him as they stretched him out from 70 pitches in his first start to 87 on Friday night, but the ability is undeniable and his season results have been better than anyone could have expected entering 2016. What we don’t know is how the organization will handle his workload to keep him in play as a contributor in September and October, but he’s been fun to watch.

Veteran Vance Worley provided the other shot in the arm on Sunday by allowing just two runs over seven innings as the Orioles completed the series sweep over the AL Central-leading Indians. In a perfect world, Worley would have remained in his role as an effective long man, but he owns a respectable 3.89 mark as a starter in his career. After seeing the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Mike Wright struggle with extensive opportunities in the first half, the Orioles had few choices but to go with Worley, who received little more than a cameo as a starter in April before moving to the bullpen.

At least for the time being, Bundy and Worley have done enough to continue giving them the ball for the time being. The Orioles rotation isn’t magically going to transform into a top five group, but rising to even the middle of the pack in the AL in the second half would go a long way in complementing a powerful offense and a bullpen back to full strength with the return of Darren O’Day.

Finding that kind of improvement would be much easier if Duquette can somehow find another viable arm to slot into the rotation, but the start of the second half has brought some encouragement.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 5-1 win over Cleveland

Posted on 23 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 5-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Friday night?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 95th game of the 2016 season.

1st Mark Trumbo embraced the return to Camden Yards by crushing a hanging curveball from Indians starter Trevor Bauer for a long three-run home run in the first inning. The blast to left-center gave the Orioles an early 3-0 lead and provided some cushion for a young pitcher making his second major league start. It was Trumbo’s first home run since July 9 and his 29th of the season as he retook sole possession of the major league lead. The right fielder added a single in the seventh inning to complete a 2-for-4 performance.

2ndDylan Bundy earned the win and showed improvement from his first start as he struck out the side in the first and did a good job using his secondary pitches early on. The right-hander allowed only one unearned run and five hits while striking out five and walking none in his five innings of work on 87 pitches. His changeup was particularly effective as six of his 13 swinging strikes came on that pitch. Bundy also showed impressive composure after the Orioles botched a rundown in the fifth as he calmly induced a double play and a grounder to escape the inning after only allowing the one unearned run.

3rdOdrisamer Despaigne did a superb job spelling Bundy and maintaining a 5-1 lead by tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief. The right-hander allowed three hits and struck out four while walking only one. That free pass of Abraham Almonte came on his final hitter of the game as he was only one strike away from a rare four-inning save, but manager Buck Showalter chose to bring in closer Zach Britton to get the final out. Considering the issues the Orioles have had with their long relief in recent weeks, Despaigne providing that kind of outing kept the bullpen in great shape for the rest of the series.

HomeManny Machado hit his 20th home run of the season and reached base four times on Friday night. It was the All-Star third baseman’s first long ball since July 5. … Britton converted his 31st save in as many tries in 2016 and is now one shy of Tippy Martinez (105 saves) for third place on the Orioles’ all-time list. The All-Star lefty hasn’t given up an earned run over his last 32 appearances since May 5. … Adam Jones hit a sacrifice fly in the second inning to move into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for seventh place on the club’s all-time RBI list with 701. … J.J. Hardy registered two hits for a third consecutive game. … The Orioles improved to a remarkable 34-14 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which is the best home record in the majors. … Kevin Gausman will take the hill on Saturday night while the Indians will start right-hander Josh Tomlin.

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Orioles prospect Hunter Harvey to undergo Tommy John surgery

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Nearly two full years after originally being shut down with right elbow discomfort, Orioles pitching prospect Hunter Harvey will undergo Tommy John surgery on Tuesday.

The 21-year-old exited his minor-league rehab start with short-season Single-A Aberdeen on Saturday after just 1 1/3 innings due to discomfort in his right flexor mass, the original diagnosis he received in late July of 2014, his first full professional season. The ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction — which typically requires about a year to recover — will be performed by Dr. Donald D’Alessandro in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday.

Despite pitching to a 3.18 ERA in 87 2/3 innings with Single-A Delmarva in 2014 to establish himself as one of the top 100 prospects in baseball, Harvey has experienced an array of health problems that have threatened to derail a promising career. In addition to the recurring forearm and elbow discomfort preceding Tuesday’s surgery, the 2013 first-round pick has lost extensive time due to a broken fibula in 2015 and sports hernia surgery earlier this season, factors that likely made it more difficult to assess how Harvey’s elbow was responding to the conservative treatment used in hopes of him avoiding surgery.

Harvey did not pitch last season and had made only five combined starts between the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen in 2016. He has posted a 2.79 ERA with 157 strikeouts in 125 2/3 career innings in the minor leagues.

While many pitchers have made successful recoveries from Tommy John surgery, this is clearly disheartening news for the Orioles, whose current starting rotation ranks among the worst in the majors. With Dylan Bundy now in the majors — and three years removed from the same procedure — Harvey was considered the top prospect in a Baltimore system lacking starting pitching depth across the board.

However, Bundy’s mere presence in the current starting rotation now is a good reminder that Harvey is far too young to write off as a potential key cog of the future.

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“Rounding the Bases” in Orioles’ 4-1 win over Yankees

Posted on 21 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Who stood out in the Orioles’ 4-1 win over the New York Yankees on Thursday afternoon?

In the spirit of hockey’s “three stars” system with the addition of home plate for honorable mentions and other notes, we go around the bases after the 94th game of the 2016 season.

1stChris Tillman pitched like an ace to close out a rough road trip on a positive note. Needing a strong start as they tried to avoid their fifth consecutive loss and a four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium, the Orioles got seven superb innings from the right-hander, who improved to a sparkling 14-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.18. After allowing five batters to reach over his first two innings, Tillman relied more heavily on his fastball to register four strikeouts in the third and fourth innings and did an excellent job mixing his assortment of pitches the rest of the way. In addition to retiring 16 of the last 17 batters he faced to ultimately tie Chris Sale for the major league lead in wins, Tillman became the first Orioles pitcher since Jim Palmer in 1978 to complete at least seven innings and allow no more than one run in four consecutive starts. Baltimore is now a whopping 18-3 when Tillman takes the mound, the most team wins in any pitcher’s starts this season. Where would the Orioles be without him?

2ndJ.J. Hardy has been one of the few to swing the bat well at the start of the second half, and the shortstop set an improved tone early in Thursday’s game. With the Orioles entering the day just 3-for-33 with men in scoring position since the All-Star break and Mark Trumbo having already popped up with runners on the corners, Hardy delivered a hard single past Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius to plate two runs with two outs. The hit allowed Baltimore to match its run total from the first three games of the series and gave Tillman a lead before he took the hill. Hardy added another single in the fourth.

3rdJonathan Schoop gave the Orioles some much-needed breathing room when he hit a soft liner down the right-field line to score two runs and increase the lead to 4-1 with two outs in the seventh. The two-run double came on an outside off-speed pitch from New York starter CC Sabathia, who was then lifted from the game and suffered his fourth consecutive loss. Schoop also started the scoring rally in the first with a one-out infield single and is now hitting .296 on the year.

HomeZach Britton may have been staked to a comfortable three-run lead in the ninth, but the All-Star closer improved to a remarkable 30-for-30 in save opportunities this season by pitching a 1-2-3 frame against the heart of the Yankees order. His 30 saves in as many chances to begin a season is the 10th-best mark in major league history. … Returning to the lineup after missing Wednesday’s game with flu-like symptoms, Manny Machado went 2-for-4 with a run scored. … Brad Brach pitched a scoreless eighth inning and has not allowed an earned run in his last 14 appearances covering 16 2/3 innings. … While Machado and Chris Davis returned to the lineup, center fielder Adam Jones missed Thursday’s games after dealing with back spasms the previous night. Catcher Matt Wieters missed his third straight game while resting a bruised foot. … The Orioles return to Camden Yards on Friday to begin a six-game homestand with right-hander Dylan Bundy making his second major league start against Cleveland right-hander Trevor Bauer.

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Patience, perspective needed for Bundy in Orioles rotation

Posted on 18 July 2016 by Luke Jones

Questioning the Orioles’ decision to put Dylan Bundy in the starting rotation is fair, but scrapping the experiment after one disappointing start as some have already suggested would lack patience and perspective.

The results weren’t pretty on Sunday as Bundy was too slow to establish his secondary stuff and gave up three home runs — matching the total surrendered in his first 38 innings this season — but his 70 pitches were the most he’d thrown in a professional game since a 73-pitch outing for Single-A Frederick on Aug. 5, 2014. It was an important step for a 23-year-old who has experienced a cruel number of physical ailments since being selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2011 amateur draft.

We all know that the Orioles giving Bundy this opportunity isn’t as much about his success out of the bullpen as it is a reflection of the failures of their starting rotation, which entered Monday ranked 14th in the American League and 28th in the majors with a 5.14 ERA. Given his restrictions in terms of pitch counts and innings, expecting Bundy to be the rotation savior would be unfair, but he could at least help stop some of the bleeding as executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette looks for starting pitching help on the trade market.

Even if Bundy isn’t going to be unleashed for a 110-pitch outing in the immediate future — nor should he be with his history since undergoing Tommy John surgery three years ago — giving him the ball for abbreviated starts still beats the alternative of giving more starts to Ubaldo Jimenez, doesn’t it? Other internal options physically equipped to throw 100 pitches haven’t exactly gotten the job done this season, have they?

It’s certainly against the norm, but I’d rather take a multi-start look at Bundy for 70 or 75 pitches — with a long reliever behind him — over any other internal option the Orioles have behind Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and Yovani Gallardo in the current rotation. It’s not as though Baltimore was getting consistent and successful 100-pitch outings from Jimenez, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson to preserve its bullpen anyway.

We just can’t expect Bundy to morph into a conventional starter overnight. The fact that he’s already contributed in meaningful ways is a great bonus for a contending club, but the most important goals for him this season continue to center around his long-term health and development, the reason why some were opposed to making Bundy a starter this soon in the first place.

His 1.42 ERA and 23 strikeouts over his last 19 innings in relief put Bundy in the rotation conversation, but starting is a different animal when the opposition is specifically preparing for you to take the hill that night.

It will be interesting to see how the Orioles proceed with Bundy, whose fastball velocity dropped to the low 90s in his final inning of work on Sunday after it sat in the mid-90s over his first three frames. That isn’t exactly a sign that he’s ready to further increase his pitch count — his 2016 high before Sunday’s 70 was 57 — but remember he wasn’t blowing hitters away through the first two months of the season until manager Buck Showalter began giving him at least three days of rest between relief appearances.

Let’s see how the young right-hander responds to the heavier workload and a set schedule between outings before we just send him back to the bullpen for the rest of the season.

Whether you agree with making Bundy a starter right now or not, drawing definitive conclusions from Sunday’s outcome is premature. The fact that we’re even having this conversation shows how far Bundy has come after a long and frustrating three years.

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Orioles prospect Harvey again dealing with forearm soreness

Posted on 17 July 2016 by Luke Jones

The night before Dylan Bundy was set to make his first major league start, the Orioles saw another health concern arise with the top pitching prospect in the organization.

Right-hander Hunter Harvey left Saturday’s start with short-season Single-A Aberdeen with right forearm soreness. The 21-year-old lasted just 1 2/3 innings and threw 23 pitches before being removed from the game.

Manager Buck Showalter didn’t offer many specifics regarding Harvey prior to Sunday’s series finale at Tampa Bay, but he noted that his velocity was in the mid-90s and expressed hope that it was more of a precautionary move. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Harvey has experienced arm problems as he was shut down with right flexor mass soreness in 2014 and again experienced elbow discomfort last year.

Those concerns coupled with a fibula fracture in 2015 and sports hernia surgery earlier this year have limited the 2013 first-round pick to just 12 2/3 minor-league innings since July of 2014.

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Bundy to make first major league start on Sunday

Posted on 15 July 2016 by Luke Jones

After weeks of questions regarding Dylan Bundy’s role in the second half, the Orioles announced that the 23-year-old right-hander will start the series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

Bundy has spent the entire season in the Baltimore bullpen since he is out of minor-league options, but he has pitched to an impressive 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in his last 19 innings of work. This improved performance coincided with manager Buck Showalter giving the 2011 first-round pick at least three days of rest between outings beginning in late May.

His velocity has also spiked since receiving more rest between appearances as his average fastball has been 94.6 mph since May 31 and was 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen whether this is anything more than a spot start as Showalter said as recently as last month that the goal was to get Bundy between 60 and 75 innings out of the bullpen in 2016 to get him ready to pitch as a starter next year. In 38 innings this season, he has posted a 2-1 record with a 3.08 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks, but he has thrown no more than 57 pitches or three innings in an outing this season.

His last outing took place on July 6 at Dodger Stadium when he pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings, recording all seven outs via strikeouts. He has not allowed an earned run in his last 15 innings.

Desperate to improve a starting rotation that ranks 14th in the American League and 28th in the majors with a 5.15 ERA, the Orioles must be careful not to push Bundy too hard from a physical standpoint. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013 and missed most of last season with a right shoulder issue, meaning he entered this season having thrown just 63 1/3 minor-league innings from 2013-2015.

The Orioles announced before the All-Star break that Yovani Gallardo and Chris Tillman would start the first two games of the Tampa Bay series with Kevin Gausman taking the hill for the opener of a four-game set at Yankee Stadium on Monday.

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Five biggest Orioles surprises of 2016 first half

Posted on 12 July 2016 by Luke Jones

In the midst of the tightest division race in the majors at the All-Star break, the first-place Orioles have benefited from their fair share of surprise performers in the midst of a 51-36 start.

While there haven’t been any players to seemingly come out of nowhere as we’ve frequently seen in the Buck Showalter-Dan Duquette era, several have turned in performances few would have predicted at the start of the 2016 season. Their accomplishments are major reasons why Baltimore has been able to exceed expectations in the competitive American League East.

Below are my five biggest individual surprises of the first half of the season with the biggest disappointments coming later this week:

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Honorable mention: Joey Rickard

5. Jonathan Schoop

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised about the 24-year-old’s first half after he hit .279 with 14 home runs and a .788 on-base plus slugging percentage in 321 plate appearances last season, but to see the second baseman take that production to the next level has been impressive.

In addition to being one of only two Baltimore players to play in all 87 games before the All-Star break — a year removed from a knee injury that cost him almost three months last season — Schoop is hitting .304 with 14 homers, 23 doubles, and 52 RBIs. His .847 OPS ranks third on the club among qualified players, which is quite a leap after he produced a .598 mark as a rookie just two years ago.

Schoop has likely benefited from some good fortune with his .348 batting average on balls in play, but he’s also shown some modest improvement in his free-swinging ways with a 3.8 percent walk rate that remains well below average but represents improvement from his 2.8 percent career mark entering the 2016 season. He hit safely in 20 of his 21 games before the break, posting a .414 average and 1.112 OPS over that stretch.

4. Dylan Bundy

One could argue that Bundy would be pitching in the minor leagues in a perfect world, but perhaps he’d be the ace of the Orioles rotation by now if such a sphere existed. Either way, the 23-year-old has overcome an array of injuries over the last few years to contribute meaningful innings out of the bullpen.

Instead of serving as a pseudo Rule 5 pick who’s only in the majors because he’s out of minor-league options, Bundy is rapidly becoming an intriguing candidate to start in the second half despite the Orioles’ plans of trying to keep him healthy while massaging his development in a relief role. Since Showalter began regularly giving him at least three days of rest between outings, Bundy has pitched to a 1.42 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in 19 innings of work.

Bundy’s 3.08 season ERA is even more impressive when noting how opponents have a .371 BABIP against him, an average likely to normalize in the second half. His velocity has also spiked since receiving more regular rest as his average fastball velocity is 94.6 mph since May 31 and was just 93.2 before that.

It remains to be seen what Bundy’s role will look like in the second half, but his continued health and reemergence as an important part of the club’s future are wonderful developments.

3. Brad Brach

How many would have believed that Darren O’Day would miss nearly six weeks of action and the Orioles would still rank second in the AL and fourth in the majors with a 3.12 bullpen ERA at the break?

With no disrespect intended to phenomenal All-Star closer Zach Britton, Brach is the biggest reason why as he’s built upon his first two good seasons in Baltimore with his own All-Star campaign that includes a microscopic 0.91 ERA and a strikeout rate of 10.6 per nine innings over 49 1/3 innings. The right-hander has allowed just one of 19 inherited runners to score and has held lefty bats to a .238 average and a .644 OPS, an important feat given the lack of a lefty specialist in the Baltimore bullpen.

Right-handers are batting .080 with a .326 OPS against Brach in 97 plate appearances as he’s provided occasional length as well as serving as a strong replacement for O’Day, who hasn’t pitched since June 1. The 30-year-old ranks third in strikeouts (58) and second in innings pitched among AL relievers.

According to Baseball Reference, Brach ranks third on the club with 2.6 wins above replacement, an illustration of how critical he’s been to the first-place Orioles.

2. Mark Trumbo

Expecting Trumbo to help fill a void in the heart of the order that wasn’t addressed after the post-2014 departure of Nelson Cruz was realistic, but the right-handed slugger has instead been one of the best offensive players in the AL in 2016.

Trumbo leads the majors with 28 homers, six more than he hit in 170 more plate appearances a season ago and only six shy of his career-high 34 in 2013. His 68 RBIs rank fourth in the majors, and his .288 average and .923 OPS would easily be career bests for the 30-year-old outfielder.

While his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his career marks, Trumbo has swung at fewer pitches outside the strike zone and has shown more consistency than his streaky track record preceding his time in Baltimore. It would be unfair to expect him to hit 50 home runs, but Trumbo has done more than his expected share for one of the best lineups in baseball.

And his offseason acquisition is arguably the best trade pulled off by Duquette during his time in Baltimore.

1. Hyun Soo Kim

Just over three months ago, the Orioles were convinced that Kim wasn’t worthy of being in the big leagues, a reminder that we shouldn’t take spring training performance as gospel.

Whether the organization was foolishly mistaken, he simply improved and adjusted to the majors, or it was a combination of both, the 28-year-old South Korean outfielder took advantage of sparse opportunities early and eventually earned a regular role against right-handed starters by late May. His .329 average and .410 on-base percentage lead the club among those with at least 170 plate appearances.

Kim has provided a steady ability to get on base in a lineup known for its power and free-swinging ways. His 12.7 percent strikeout rate is the lowest on the club among regulars, and his 10.4 percent walk rate has been a helpful addition in the No. 2 spot in the order ahead of the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Trumbo.

His .370 BABIP suggests Kim will have a difficult time sustaining his current level of production, but he’s done more than enough to suggest he’s worthy of being a major leaguer and that the thoughts of sending him back to the Korean Baseball Organization in the spring were grossly premature.

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