1.) Who will carry this pitching staff through the dog days of summer?
Jason Hammel has undoubtedly been the best pitcher in the Orioles rotation in 2012. He leads the Orioles in wins at 8, ERA at 3.47, and strikeouts with 101. However, he has struggled in his last three starts, losing all three. And while a 3.47 ERA is not too shabby, not even a month ago on June 22nd, Hammel was sporting a 2.61 ERA. Wei-Yin Chen has been the team’s second best starter, with a 7-5 record and 3.93 ERA. However, just like Hammel, Chen has cooled off as we enter the second half of the season. He has not won a decision since June 17th and he gave up a career high 3 HRs in his last start against lowly Seattle.
Hammel and Chen are both in their 20s and would benefit greatly from a veteran presence like a Ryan Dempster from Chicago. Even a James Shields of Tampa Bay, who is 30, has big game experience from pitching in the World Series and multiple playoff games. Baltimore would greatly benefit from having guys who have been in postseason contention battles leading their staff. Dempster is coming off the DL and James Shields has a sub-4 ERA throughout his career. Both names will be mentioned heavily come the trade deadline, and Baltimore should definitely be hitting the phones to see what they want.
2.) Can Mark Reynolds be an effective hitter in this Orioles lineup?
The definition of effective for Mark Reynolds in comparison to other Major League hitters is much different. One can never expect that Reynolds will be a guy who gets on base, he has never hit above .280 in his entire career. Nor can one expect Mark to chill with the strikeouts either. Reynolds led the American League last year with 196 K’s, and that was only his 4th highest total of his career! And don’t even get started on Mark Reynolds and his horrific attempt at fielding. He led the majors in 2011 with 31 errors last year.
Mark Reynolds is an effective hitter when he is hitting home runs. In 2011, he was fourth in the majors with 37 HRs. Despite all of his faults, when he was on, he was not a guy you wanted to face if you were an opposing pitcher. If you follow Earl Weaver’s Three Keys to Winning Baseball: Pitching, Defense, and Three Run Homers, you know for sure Reynolds did not fall into the first two categories. But with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Mark Reynolds is that power hitter that you want at the plate. That is, of course, when he is not mired in a 3 for 25 slump like he was during interleague play.
3.) Will Brian Roberts have any effect on the Orioles chances of making a postseason run?
Love the Orioles or not, you have to feel for Brian Roberts. I get that he was mentioned in the Mitchell Report back in 2007, and admitted to taking a shot of steroids in 2003. The key is that he admitted he this occasion, unlike a certain pitcher from the Yankees who claims he never did while he was throwing 100 mph at 45 years old. Anyway , Roberts has played in just 115 games since the beginning of the 2010 season, and has missed almost 13 months while recovering from multiple concussions. He returned to the Orioles on June 12th, but was back on the DL not even a month later with a torn right hip muscle.
Now, the longtime leadoff 2B for the Orioles is weighing whether or not he should have surgery on the hip or rehab it on its. On one hand it would be great to see Roberts try and get back with the Orioles sooner than two months, if only to help them out defensively as they lead the MLB with 75 errors. On the other hand, if the Orioles are buyers at the deadline and find themselves in contention come September, how great would it be to have his leadership back in the clubhouse as the O’s make a playoff push?
4.) Speaking of all this poor fielding, who can the O’s acquire now to help?
Did I mention Baltimore was dead last in fielding in Major League Baseball? If one could point a finger at the glaring hole in the infield for this problem, look no further than 3B. Not one of these guys has above average ability to play the hot corner: Robert Andino, Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Wilson Betemit or Ryan Flaherty. The Orioles are in a tie with Anaheim for the Wildcard, and pitching should not be the only area where the Orioles upgrade to make a legitimate run.
Two names come to mind that can immediately help Baltimore at 3B, without having to include Bundy, Machado or much else from the farm system. The first is Placido Polanco from the Philadelphia Phillies. A 36 year old playing for the last place, 13 games below .500 Phillies should come at a bargain for Baltimore. Polanco has won three gold gloves in the past five years, and has yet to make an error in 30 games at 3B with Philadelphia. His lifetime fielding percentages at 1B and 3B are the best in major league history. No, that is not a typo.
If Philadelphia decides they do not want to shop Polanco, the second team the Orioles should call is San Diego to inquire about Chase Headley’s services. Headley is 28, eight years younger than Polanco, and possesses more ability to hit for power at this point of his career. Headley is an average defensive 3B, and unfortunately suffers from Mark Reynolds strikeout syndrome (He has twice in his career made more than 600 plate appearances, and in each of those seasons, he has struck out over 130 times). However, with San Diego not being competitive in 2012 and Headley heading into arbitration, his services would come at a bargain and he would at least push the guys who are already here in Baltimore.
5.) Can the Bullpen perform as well as it did in the first half of the season?
This may be one of the biggest questions the Orioles face heading into the back half of 2012, if only because it has been the most reliable department of their team throughout the first half. The Orioles lead the American League with a 2.75 ERA as well as hold the best record out of the pen with a 17-6 mark. All Star Jim Johnson has been one of the most reliable closers in baseball, converting 26 of 27 save opportunities with a 1.21 ERA and a 0.75 WHIP. Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop, and Darren O’Day all have sub-3 ERAs and have been very efficient in setting up Johnson before the 9th inning.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown and the Orioles own a daunting task to match their outstanding performance post-All Star break. If history is any indicator for Jim Johnson, than the chances of this bullpen holding up are not very strong. His ERA is 3.98 post All Star break, compared to 2.56 before the break in his career. In addition, it has been 22 years since an AL bullpen statistically threw as well as the Orioles have over a full season. Oakland had a combined 2.35 mark in 1990. Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter will be closely monitoring the bullpen to keep those guys fresh and productive down the stretch. Let’s see how they hold up.