It would be easy to agree that the Orioles have had a frustrating season so far. Injuries, a lack of offense and mental mistakes have taken its toll on the 2014 American League East Champions, and significant improvement is needed in order for the O’s to repeat as AL East Champions and get another shot at a pennant.
It is no secret that the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis have hurt the team. The Orioles lineup is lacking the power bat of Nelson Cruz and the consistency that Markakis displayed at the plate every single game. Not only do these losses impact the offense, but the defense as well. corner outfielders like Travis Snider, Alejandro De Aza and Delmon Young have not performed up to a level as consistent as Markakis. Young has performed the best out of the group, and leads the majors with 8 outfield assists. Snider has misplayed several balls and made several mental mistakes, most recently Tuesday night when he was running the bases and took off when a ball was hit in the air, thinking there were two outs when there was only one. De Aza was traded to the Red Sox for cash considerations on Wednesday morning after slumping his way to the minors. It appears that Snider, Young and David Lough will be given opportunities to establish a role at the corner outfield positions, but all three of them are nowhere close to the player Nick Markakis was and the Orioles should consider making a trade for a quality corner outfielder before the deadline.
As mentioned, losing Cruz and Markakis left a leadership void. That leadership void has taken several more hits as veterans like Matt Wieters and JJ Hardy have also missed time. Wieters has yet to play a game this season, but is scheduled to make his return to the Orioles on Friday after missing an entire year with Tommy John surgery. Hardy made his season debut on May 7 after battling a shoulder injury he suffered in spring training. Thus far, Hardy has been struggling at the plate, hitting .190. He is also struggling to stay healthy, battling a reoccurring back injury and most recently a “side” or oblique injury. This should be very concerning for both Hardy and the Orioles and you have to wonder if Hardy will be able to stay healthy long term after the 32 year old shortstop signed a three year deal last season. The Orioles have another dilemma with catcher Matt Wieters upon his return. Wieters had one of the best arms among catchers, but after his Tommy John surgery it will be interesting to see if his arm will ever be the same way ever again. Not only that, but catcher Caleb Joseph has performed beyond the Orioles expectations, and has gotten lots of experience over the past year. He is great at framing pitches, arguably better than Wieters, is batting .250 with 4 home runs and 18 RBI and is in 5th place in the AL All Star voting for catchers so far. In his rehab assignment, Wieters has been on an every other day catching schedule. At this point the Orioles could rotate Wieters and Joseph every other day and use the other catcher as a DH if they want to since Jimmy Parades (along with every other Orioles hitter) is struggling at the plate right now. With Wieters being a free agent after this season and the emergence of Caleb Joseph, the Orioles’s catching situation will be interesting from here on out, but it will be nice to have another veteran back to help fill the leadership void.
There are some other injured Orioles, which include Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, Bud Norris and Kevin Gausman. Jones sprained his ankle sliding into first base in the second game of the Orioles doubleheader against the White Sox on May 28. Jones missed 2 games and then DH’d in Monday nights game, then returned to the outfield Tuesday night. I would argue that the best move might be to 15 day DL Jones to get that ankle back to 100%. After all, after hitting .400 in April, Jones slumped to .239 in May and is back to his old habits of swinging at balls in the dirt. Two weeks off may be just what he needs. Schoop tore his PCL and sprained his MCL on April 18 and it was rumored on May 15 that he would be starting a rehab assignment, but since then the Orioles have not updated Schoop’s condition. I doubt he returns until July. Norris went on the 15 day DL with bronchitis and made his last rehab start Tuesday night, and even with a 9.88 ERA so far this season Buck Showalter said Norris would get his spot in the rotation back, replacing Mike Wright. Gausman was put on the DL on May 8 with shoulder tendinitis, and is expected to return “soon.” So far the Orioles’s experiment with Gausman in the bullpen has failed, so at this point I would like the see him go back to triple A and start games because the Orioles want him in their rotation in the future. Keeping him in the bullpen would be a mistake.
For the most part, the defense has been decent. The Orioles currently rank 8th in the majors in fielding, in terms of errors (27), fielding percentage (.985), assists (479), and 1344 putouts in 1850 chances. The most glaring issue with the defense has been Manny Machado, who leads the club with 9 errors. Machado was Gold Glove winner in 2013 and had 9 total errors throughout the whole 2014 season. Most of the errors have been throwing errors, and you have to wonder if suffering the same knee injury in two different knees in consecutive seasons could have him struggling to find his balance in time to make an accurate throw. Behind Machado is Everth Cabrera with 3 errors, so that gives you an idea of how inconsistent Machado has been this season.
As for the pitching, the staff had a tough start to the season in April, pitching themselves to a 4.78 ERA for the month. Even though the pitching staff struggled, the club finished 11-10 during the month of April because the offense was doing their part, as the offense hit .286. In May, the pitching staff improved to a 3.38 ERA and the club went 13-16 because the offense slipped and the batting average fell to .231. We’ll get more into the offense shortly. Ubaldo Jimenez has been the best starter in the rotation so far, going 3-3 and leading the starters in ERA (3.12) and strikeouts (55). Miguel Gonzalez and Wei Yin Chen have also performed well in the rotation. Gonzalez leads the club in wins (5) and has a 3.48 ERA. Chen’s ERA is 3.21. The other starters, Chris Tillman and Bud Norris, have struggled. Tillman has gone 2-7 with a 5.94 ERA and Norris has been the worst pitcher on the club, going 1-4 with a 9.88 ERA before landing on the DL.
Bright spots in the bullpen have been Darren O’Day, Zach Britton, Chaz Roe and Brad Brach. Tommy Hunter, Kevin Gausman and Rule 5 pick Jason Garcia have struggled. It has been nice to see young arms like Mike Wright, Tyler Wilson, Roe and Oliver Drake to get shots in the big leagues, but pitchers like Wright and Gausman should be starting games in the minors if they are not going to be in the rotation right now. If Buck wants to use some of these young arms in the bullpen after this season, I see no problem with letting them get some experience if there is a spot for them.
Now for the part where I am not so nice. For over a month, the Orioles offense has gone through one of the worst stretches I have ever seen watching the team. I experienced some dark days when I watched from 2006-2012, but my gosh, they just cannot get anything going lately. Just to give you an example, in their last 10 games the Orioles have hit the ball six times or less six times. The offense has had flashes, such as Tuesday night when the Orioles scored four runs in the second inning. However, the Orioles did not score the rest of the game and lost the ballgame 6-4. Wednesday night the Orioles lost 3-1 against Lance McCullers, who pitched a complete game in only his fourth major league start. The entire lineup appears to be in a slump, and in their last seven games only three Orioles have a batting average above .231 (Steve Clevenger is hitting .455, but I will not count him since he will be sent down again once Wieters returns). Designated hitter Jimmy Parades, who was hitting over .350 a week ago, has hit .071 over the past week and his average is now .305. You have to wonder if he will be taken out of the lineup in games where Wieters is not catching. Adam Jones is also in a slump with a batting average of .174 over the last week. His season average is still .297, but he has swung at a lot of bad pitches lately, something he was avoiding for the first month or so of the season.
There are other Orioles struggling to make something happen offensively. Steve Pearce (.183 season average) appears to have lost it at the plate after finally finding his groove last season. Chris Davis (.218) has not improved much from his disappointing season last year and leads the club with 73 strikeouts. Players like Manny Machado, Delmon Young, Caleb Joseph, Parades, Jones and Davis have provided bright spots at times, but still remain inconsistent and cannot carry the load with players like David Lough, Everth Cabrera, Pearce and Hardy providing almost no support at the plate. Buck Showalter expressed his frustration with the lineup’s poor performance Monday night:
“We’re just not scoring any runs, that’s the bottom line. With the opportunities we get, we’re just not taking advantage of them.”
You are right on the money there, Buck.
As it stands now, the Orioles have lost five straight, are six games under .500 with a record of 23-29 on the season and are currently in last place in the AL East. However, the entire AL East has been struggling so far this season and the Orioles are only five games out of first place. It is only May and the Orioles have plenty of time to figure these things out, but huge improvements, particularly to the offense are necessary if the Orioles are going to make a splash and repeat as AL East Champions. It has been a long few weeks and I am sure that fans, coaches and players alike are all frustrated. As much as I get negative and panic, it is reassuring to know that there is still plenty of time left and with Buck at the helm, the Orioles will not be out of it until it is all said and done. Let’s take a deep breath, sit back and see if the best is yet to come for the Baltimore Orioles in 2015.
Thanks for reading,
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