Summer is here and for Baltimore fans, that usually means three things: oppressive humidity, Ravens training camp is just around the corner, and the Orioles have almost been eliminated from playoff contention.
It's been that way for 11—likely going on 12—years, but at least this year there is a glimmer of hope in the persons of Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters, and, coming soon, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta.
Wieters, Reimold, and former Minor League Pitcher of the Year Brad Bergeson have already made an impact. Combined with current stars Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, and Brian Roberts, the O's would seem to have a nice foundation, on paper.
But as we hopefully wait for these young players to morph into stars, there is the present, which is well...the same Orioles they've been for the last 12 years.
The team is currently last in the mighty American League East with a 32-40 record, although that does give the O's the honor of being the best last place team in baseball. So they've got that going for them.
How did the Orioles get there? It's as simple as pitching, pitching, pitching.
Here's just some random pitching categories the O's are at the bottom of:
- 5.01 ERA—13th in AL, 28th in MLB
- 417 strikeouts—13th in AL; 27th in MLB
- 5.3 runs allowed per game—13th in AL, 28th in MLB
The strikeouts stat can be excused because pitching coach Rick Kranitz has emphasized a "pitch to contact" philosophy. The Orioles are actually one of the best in terms of not giving up walks, surrendering 225 free passes, the fifth fewest in MLB.
The problem is, when they've pitched to contact, they've been hit. Hard. Check out that unsightly 4.96 team ERA (and that was before tonight's 11-3 beating at the hands of the Florida Marlins) and 1.45 WHIP (again set to go up after tonight). The low walks total makes that WHIP—walks/hits per innings pitched—worse because teams are reaching off hits.
Here's a season's pitching line a die hard O's fan will be able to guess:
Recognize that line? No, that's not a winning Keno ticket, that was Adam Eaton's stat line in his all-too-long stint in an Oriole uniform. Eaton managed to last eight games before General Manager Andy MacPhail mercifully cut the cord.
But I won't pick on Eaton too much. His stint in Baltimore seems like it happened six years ago. Here's a more disturbing stat line:
Can you guess that line?
This one belongs to the supposed "ace" of the Orioles, Jeremy Guthrie. The numbers that really jump out are the opponent's batting average against (.272) and the home runs allowed (17). Those 17 bombs against lead all of Major League Baseball.
The bottom line with Guthrie is what most people already knew: He's a second or third starter that has been thrust into an ace role because there's nobody better.
One more. See if you can guess which O's reliever these digits belong to:
10.12 ERA and 2.30 WHIP
If you guessed Chris Ray, after getting bombed again tonight by the Marlins, you are correct. Ray's struggles this year might hurt the team worse than anything Eaton ever inflicted on O's fans. After a lights-out spring, Ray was supposed to eventually reclaim the closer's job from George Sherrill.
But Ray has been tossing batting practice this year. The O's have even tried sending him to the minors to get him right. His struggles aren't just harmful to the present, but to the future as well.
Why? Because now MacPhail has no reliable option for the closer role if he wanted to trade Sherrill. Trading Fat Breezy is something I'm sure MacPhail would love to do, since his value might not be as high as it is right now.
Still, as bad as most of the Orioles' staff has been, there are some bright spots.
Bergeson has been the team's best starter since he was called up from Norfolk and the arrival of his minor league battery-mate, Wieters, has taken Bergeson's game up a notch.
He's the only regular starter with an ERA under four.
Sherrill has been lights out after a slow start, surrendering only two earned runs with 11 saves since a blown save against Texas on April 26.
In the process, Sherrill has lowered his ERA from 5.19 to 2.20. Breezy is always going to give up baserunners (22 hits and nine walks in 28.2 innings) because of his corner-nibbling pitching style, but he's avoided the ninth-inning adventures for most of the last two months.
Jim Johnson has also been reliable as the set-up man, recording 11 holds with a 2.52 ERA.
The problem is, the O's starters give up so many hits and runs that Johnson and Sherrill don't have many leads to protect.
Offensively and defensively, the Orioles are the definition of mediocre. In the field, the team's 43 errors is good for 13th in MLB. It's not terrible, but MacPhail was surely expecting a lot better.
As much as the Orioles' pitching staff gets hit, the defense has no margin for error—literally.
At the plate, the Orioles looked like they would be a formidable offensive team earlier in the season as Roberts, Jones, and Markakis got off to blistering starts. The team still has the seventh-best batting average in baseball, .271, and averages 4.6 runs a game.
But those numbers obscure the power outage in the O's bats, especially in June. Roberts, the leadoff hitter, has been the leading RBI man this month with 12. As a team, the Orioles have only hit 16 home runs this month.
If one only goes by the numbers, one would think the O's had a bunch of Pat Tabler's on the team. Good average but no pop. Yes, they're hitting for that .271 average, but they've only hit 75 homers for the season, 10th in the powerful AL.
In the O's defense, that number figures to jump higher on subsequent visits to the new Yankee Stadium. Still, the lack of pop is startling.
Top home run hitter Luke Scott padded his 14 homers during a May hot streak.
Jones has one homer in June and hit seven of his 12 in May.
Aubrey Huff has only nine home runs after hitting 32 last year.
Markakis is off to his usual slow power start with only eight home runs. What's more disturbing for Kake is his batting averages the last two months—.240 in May and .260 in June.
The bottom line is, you have to get more out of your No. 3 and No. 4 hitters than Markakis and Huff's combined 17 home runs.
And then there are numbers that can't be computed. Little things the Orioles do wrong that helps them lose. Things like "running themselves out of innings" or "brainfarts in the outfield."
Right, Melvin Mora and Felix Pie?
So after crunching all those numbers, what can one say about the Orioles?
Move to the National League.
How about this: The Orioles are nearly a mirror image, statistically, to the team they were just swept by, the Florida Marlins.
The similarities are startling, actually. Going into tonight's game, here's how close the two teams are statistically:
- Both average 4.6 runs per game
- Home runs: Orioles, 75; Marlins, 73
- Steals: Marlins, 40; Orioles, 37
- Leading home run hitters: Marlins—Uggla, 14; Orioles—Scott, 14
- Saves: Orioles—Sherrill, 15; Marlins—Lindstrom, 14
And so on and so on.
The difference? Pitching, of course—and not just better pitching, but hard-throwing pitching.
While the Marlins trotted out young flame-throwers like Andrew Miller, the Orioles started soft-tossers Koji Uehara and Rich Hill.
But as I said in the beginning, help is on the way.
That's the good news.
Matusz, Tillman and Arrieta have all been touted with nasty stuff that nobody on the current roster has.
The bad news is the O's are stuck with the staff they have now. A group that's pretty much guaranteed to keep them in the AL East cellar.