Baltimore Orioles: 5 Players Who Need to Finish Strong
The Baltimore Orioles are having a nice surprise season right now, and, considering how many of their players are performing thus far, it's justifiable to wonder just how on Earth they're doing it.
For the Orioles, it would be greatly beneficial to have these guys break out and perform like they're capable of. It would almost be as if the O's did make a significant deadline deal to boost their team.
Plenty of guys on the team are deserving of making this list—which is strange to say, considering this team is a half game out of a wild-card spot—but I'm going to name those who are most important to the team at this point and/or are in a free-agent season and could use it for themselves, as well.
If any of these key cogs in the Orioles machine can step up their game over the final two months of the season, then the team could continue its fairy-tale season in an even bigger way.
J.J. Hardy, Shortstop
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While J.J. Hardy has been a defensive wizard at shortstop this season (and should win the Gold Glove), his bat has fallen off quite a bit from his production last year, when he set a career high in homers with 30.
No one expected replication of his offensive numbers from last season, but everyone still figured he could keep his power potential in a similar range. But he's only hitting .227 this year, with 15 bombs and 43 RBI.
The O's desperately need him to get that average up, especially if he's going to continue to hit in the number two slot in the batting order. If he gets the average up, his power numbers will get better with it, and it wouldn't be out of the question to see him get to 23 homers and 60-70 RBI by season's end.
Hardy may be arguably the most important player on this list. The O's really need his bat right now.
But hey, as long as his slump at the plate doesn't effect him in the field, then it's not all bad, right? You take what you can get, and even with his offensive struggles, Hardy is anything but a bad player.
Matt Wieter; Catcher
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Early in the year, Matt Wieters was raking at the plate, and it looked like he was on his way to a breakout season.
Not so much anymore.
Currently, Wieters is batting .240 with 13 homers and 50 RBI. Not terrible for a catcher by any means, but Wieters has potential for much more than that, and if he's going to hit in the middle of the lineup, he's going to have to produce better.
Another strong finish for Wieters, like in seasons past, would do wonders for the Orioles' offense. The team could use a solid, reliable bat behind Adam Jones. Wieters could be that bat.
Jason Hammel, Starting Pitcher
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When Jason Hammel returns from the DL, the Orioles are banking on him to continue his career year on the mound, and help lead the team to a wild-card berth.
Hammel has been very consistent this season, with just three or four very poor starts all year, so he's not on this list for not living up to expectations coming into the season.
No, he's far exceeded the expectations that were laid for him. He's on this list because the O's need him to pitch well now more than ever, because their starting rotation is anything but reliable and consistent.
Like Hardy, Hammel is arguably the most important player to be included on this list. Other than what Hammel has proven to be this season, and rookie Wei-Yin Chen, the O's have virtually no one who can pitch at the front of their rotation.
If Hammel gives the team a chance to win every fifth day during September, that will be a huge asset to the Birds as they look to shock the baseball world.
Wei-Yin Chen, Starting Pitcher
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Just like Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen is on this list because he's been good this season, and the Orioles need him to stay that way.
He and Hammel have to anchor the front of that pitching rotation, much like former Orioles Erik Bedard and Jeremy Guthrie did in the 2007 season, combining to be a nasty 1-2 punch.
Since it isn't likely the team can add a true ace between now and the end of the season, the Orioles' playoff hopes rest on the arms of these two pitchers.
Consistency here is the key. Chen's been able to do that most of the year. If he keeps it up, good things can happen.
Kevin Gregg, Middle Reliever
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Kevin Gregg has been surprisingly and quietly solid in a middle relief role this season, and hasn't gotten much credit for it at all.
In 33.2 innings of work, Gregg has a 4.28 ERA, which is nothing to go crazy over, but is still solid, especially if he is used in the right situations. And that's what manager Buck Showalter has done with Gregg: use him in the right situations.
For Gregg, finishing out the year strong is more important to him than it is for the Orioles. Don't get me wrong, the Birds would welcome good performances from Gregg with open arms, but the team's bullpen is strong already and it's not like he's an absolutely necessary piece.
He's in the final year of his contract, and almost certainly won't be back with the team after this year. So, if he can continue his solid work, he'll be lining himself up for a one-year deal at decent pay from some team in the majors, for sure.
Gregg certainly hasn't been the weakest link on the team this season.