Who could have guessed that the Baltimore Orioles would still be in the playoff race headed into the middle of August?
The O's have managed to remain in the playoff hunt all season long despite not receiving outstanding performances in any aspect of the game, outside of the bullpen.
Who knows how they're doing it.
All that matters is that they are. But if they want to play in October, they're going to have to improve their game.
Generally speaking, playoff teams need to have a staple of good starting pitching to help them consistently win and make it into October.
The Orioles are defying the norm this year, as their starting pitching has been, well, not wonderful. Only rookie lefty Wei-Yin Chen (pictured) and righty Jason Hammel (currently on the DL) have been reliable starters for the team.
Their Opening Day pitcher, Jake Arrieta, is in Triple-A. As is Brian Matusz, who was in the Opening Day Rotation. Zach Britton came back from injury and struggled mightily, so now he's back in the minors as well.
It defies logic, but somehow, the O's starting pitching has been just good enough to keep them around.
It's going to have to greatly improve, though, if they want to make it into October, and especially when those short playoff series start.
The one thing that's been even worse than the team's pitching is the team's defense.
In the field, the O's have been atrocious. They're tied for last in the bigs with the Colorado Rockies in fielding percentage, at a .980 clip, and they're first in the majors in errors committed with 89.
Actually, it seems as though their error pace has slowed down, since for a while there they had the equivalent of about one error per game.
Pitching and defense win championships. We've already covered pitching. But if one thing needs to improve more than the team's pitching, it's the defense. One could argue that the pitching would improve, at least some, if the defense were to improve.
The O's are trying to get there. They've made some additions, such as trading for second baseman Omar Quintanilla, and promoting top prospect Manny Machado to play third base and get Wilson Betemit off the field as much. But they're going to have to do more than that.
I know, I just highlighted the three main aspects to a baseball game, but I can't help it.
Blame the Orioles. They're making me do it.
The Birds are currently 23rd in the league with a .245 batting average. They're also only 19th in RBI, with a team total of 455.
They don't walk, as they're also 23rd in the league in that statistic with 329, and they strike out a ton—937 times, to be exact. Puts them at fourth there.
But they hit the homer, and that's what counts, right? Their 143 cumulative bombs are good enough for fourth in baseball.
The team needs to make better contact, especially with men in scoring position. Guys like Mark Reynolds (pictured), Roberts Andino, J.J. Hardy and even Matt Wieters to an extent need to step it up. Period.
So the O's haven't been terrible here. Their home record is 30-28.
But that's the thing. It's only 30-28. And it's just recently gotten over the .500 mark.
On the road, the O's are a reliable 32-25, so there's no issue there. However, the team needs to start taking advantage of their home park when they're there. It's their turf, and they need to show it.
Hopefully, the recent trend of above .500 playing continues and the Birds only get better at home.
They're going to need to own their house to get into the playoffs, then be successful there.