BY: BRIAN PINTER
We’ve all heard the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, and sometimes with Major League Baseball teams, it seems to hold true. However, for the 2016 Baltimore Orioles, they now have a record of 51-36, and are in first place by two games over the Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays as we hit the All-Star break. Back in the spring, the writers from Sports Illustrated projected the Orioles to finish with a record of 69-93, and dead last in the AL East. Barring a collapse only possible in a video game, the Orioles are making sure those writers remember to not judge a book by its cover.
OFFENSE GRADE: B+
Let’s face it, without the Orioles mashing offense, there is no way they would be in first place, and I’d even go out on a limb to say they may not even be 15 games over .500. The O’s have cranked out 137 home runs, good for the best in the majors, and are second best in slugging % in the American League. By September, I’d put money on the Orioles having 6 of their starting 9 with 20 or more home runs, and 3 of those 6 having 30 or more. It’ll be interesting to see who leads this team in homers at the end of the season, whether it be Davis, or Trumbo. Now we all know the O’s can mash the ball, but when you look at the bigger picture, 38% of their hits are resulting in extra-base hits, which is 3% higher than the league average. Also, they are just a hair off the league average of 8% in the walks category, at 7.9%. Looking back at the 162 they played in 2015, the Orioles had a 7% walk percentage, and a 35% extra-base hit rate. When you look at sacrifice bunting though, through 87 games, the Orioles only have four successful sacrifice bunts by non-pitchers, however, in 162 games last year, they had 18. The home runs are great, and the extra-base hits are superb, however, given the lack of successful sacrifice bunts, and the 22.4% strike out rate, the Orioles offense, in my own opinion, gets a B+.
PITCHING GRADE: C-
When you try to grade pitching, you can’t just think of the five guys that are in your starting rotation, you have to think of the bullpen as well. Altogether, the Orioles have sent six guys out to the bump to start games this season. There is only one that has been in the rotation since Opening Day, and his name is Chris Tillman. The only real highlight of the starting rotation so far has been Tillman’s 12-2 start to the year. In 19 starts, Tillman has become the first pitcher to hit 12 wins prior to the All-Star break since Jimmy Key did it on July 3, 1997. Outside of Tillman, there has been no positive consistency, and nobody to lean on. The other five starters this season have a combined record of 16-26, with an ERA of 5.67. That alone is enough to fail the pitching performance through the first 87 games, however, as I said, let’s factor in the bullpen to this equation. Pitchers from the bullpen so far this season have thrown 297.2 innings, and have a combined ERA of 3.12. With Darren O’Day being placed on the DL on June 3, Brad Brach (who will be making his first all-star game appearance) has picked up the slack nicely. Brach has appeared in 40 games (most of all relievers) and is holding opponents to a .152 average, while striking out 10.6 per 9 innings. While this has been a great season for Brach, it has been just as good for Mychael Givens, who is striking out 11.2 per 9 innings, and allowing an opposing average of .245. Bringing in either one of those relievers seems to be the perfect scenario for Zach Britton who has been named to his second All-Star team in a row. That nomination hasn’t been more deserving, as Britton has converted 27 of 27 saves this season, and is only allowing a .157 average against him this season. These are a few reasons as to why I give this staff a C- for the first part of the year, however, I expect Dylan Bundy to get some starts in the second half, as well as piggyback starts from Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson. If anything, they hope that can help more than it hurts. As for Ubaldo Jimenez, truth be told, the Orioles needs to cut their losses, and designate this guy for assignment. No hard feelings, however, with Ubaldo being sent out their every fifth day, the Orioles are finding themselves hurting more often than not.
HOW TO WIN THE EAST
The formula to finish out this season with their second AL East title in three years is fairly simple; the starting pitching must be better. It would not surprise me one bit if the O’s come out of the All-Star break and end July with no intention whatsoever of making a trade for a starter, however, in my non-bias opinion, they will not win the division without making that trade. Over the past few weeks the Orioles have been linked to such starters as Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz, and Francisco Liriano. One thing is for sure, the O’s will have to part ways with something on their major league roster, in order to secure an arm that is capable of assisting them in their hunt for Orange October. The Orioles are also going to need to play better away from Camden Yards. With 41 of their final 75 games on the road, the 18 wins they have compiled to this point (compared to 22 losses) are certainly going to need to be increased if they want to stay atop of the division come September.
BIG TIME MOMENTS
4/4/16: Matt Wieters drives in Chris Davis to give the Orioles a 3-2 walk-off victory over the Twins on Opening Day.
4/15/16: Orioles hit five home runs, Trumbo hits two in the same inning, as the O’s score 9 in the 7th, and beat the Rangers, 11-5.
5/8/16: The Mother’s Day Mashers hit six home runs, and score 11 unanswered runs, and pummel the Athletics, 11-3.
5/21/16: The Orioles, and Matt Wieters waited until their last out of the ballgame to score three, and defeat the Angels, 3-1.
5/29/16: Hyun Soo Kim, everybody’s favorite Korean, gets his first big league HR, as the Orioles down the Indians, 6-4.
6/30/16: Hyun Soo Kim hits the Orioles’ 56th HR in the month of June, setting a new major league record.
94-68, AL East Champions
….Let’s get to October first before we start throwing playoff predictions out there.