Road improvement big part of Orioles turnaround

June 23, 2015 | Luke Jones

(Updated 10:25 p.m.)

Many reasons have been discussed for the Orioles’ June turnaround, but one of the biggest has been a revitalization away from Camden Yards.

Upon losing their fifth straight game and dropping their third in a row in Houston on June 3, the Orioles had not only fallen a season-low six games below .500 but sported an 8-17 record on the road, tied for the second-worst mark in the majors. A 3-2 victory over the Astros the following afternoon started a run of 14 wins in 18 games that continued with a 6-4 victory over Boston at Fenway Park on Tuesday night.

Their current 15-20 road record is still no shining achievement, but the Orioles have won seven of their last 10 away from home including this past weekend’s important series win against Toronto at Rogers Centre, a place where they were swept in April.

The Orioles entered Tuesday tied with Kansas City for the second-best home record in the American League at 22-13, but continued improvement on the road will be critical to their ability to contend in the tight AL East. In running away with their first division title in 17 years last season, manager Buck Showalter’s club sported a 46-35 record on the road, which was tied for second in the AL.

You can simply look at the previous three seasons to see how critical road performance has been to the Orioles’ postseason aspirations. In making trips to the playoffs in 2012 and 2014, the Orioles sported matching 46-35 regular-season records away from Camden Yards. Two years ago, they finished a strong 46-35 at home, but an underwhelming 39-42 road record led to an 85-77 mark and third place in the AL East.

July will bring a major test to the Orioles’ mettle as they’ll play 15 of 22 games on the road.

Pondering Schoop and Flaherty

After beginning his rehab assignment going 1-for-11 in his first three games for Double-A Bowie, second baseman Jonathan Schoop exploded Monday night with a home run and two doubles.

The Orioles have made sure that Schoop has taken his time in rehabbing a right knee injury suffered in mid-April, but the 23-year-old’s return and potential will be welcomed at the bottom of the lineup. What this means for Ryan Flaherty remains to be seen, however, as he had a very solid .744 on-base plus slugging percentage entering Tuesday.

Schoop clearly possesses more upside, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Showalter continue to give the 28-year-old Flaherty some playing time as he can spell the young second baseman as well as veteran shortstop J.J. Hardy to keep them fresh. With Hardy’s well-documented back issues and Schoop’s knee, Flaherty should continue to receive at least two or three starts per week.

And he deserves it with his improvement at the plate this season.

Another outfield option on the horizon?

As the Orioles ponder how to figure out a crowded outfield picture, another potential option at Triple-A Norfolk has begun emerging recently.

Dariel Alvarez has been on the organization’s radar for quite some time, but the 26-year-old Cuban outfielder has collected multiple hits in 11 of his last 14 games entering Tuesday. Over that time, the right-hander is batting .410 with four home runs, five doubles, and 12 RBIs over 61 at-bats.

A call-up probably isn’t imminent with the 25-man roster already too crowded, but Alvarez possesses an electric throwing arm and has improved his average to .282 with 11 homers, 38 RBIs, and a .761 OPS. If he continues his recent trend at the plate, the Orioles will certainly be tempted to take a look at him in the second half of the season.

All-Star Game voting fix

Much has been said — including from this writer — about the All-Star Game voting that currently features seven Kansas City Royals in line to start for the AL, but ESPN’s Jayson Stark pointed out one of the biggest — and easily correctable — problems with the system.

A simple visit to the voting website illustrates how one can mindlessly vote for every player on their favorite club by simply clicking the team’s logo at the top of the page. If you give people an excuse to be lazy, many will take the bait to save even a minute or two of time.

To be clear, the Royals, Orioles, or any major league team can campaign for their players to be All-Star selections as much as they’d like, but can we at least make homers hellbent on only voting for their own players — in Kansas City or anywhere — to put in some effort by voting manually for each position?

At the very least, this would force fans to look at other names in the process, which isn’t too much to ask if we’re going to let them vote for the players participating in a contest that determines home-field advantage in the World Series.