The Orioles finished April with a very respectable, for the Orioles anyway, 12-13 record. The month saw the Orioles start fast with a 6-1 record, which had many baseball fans wondering how long Baltimore would continue their winning ways.
Not long, was the answer, as the Orioles promptly lost eight in a row. The eight-game losing streak saw the Orioles offense struggle to score runs and their young rotation struggle to get outs. After the losing streak, the Orioles have rebounded to win three of their next four series, dropping only their series with the Yankees, and now stand at 13-14.
April was a very up-and-down month for the Orioles, and if they are to sustain their near .500 play, there are several things that must change.
The Orioles offense struggled for much of April. When your leading RBI man is your leadoff hitter, as Brian Roberts is for the Orioles, something must change.
Big-name free-agent signings Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee have not produced as expected. Guerrero has picked up his production slightly in the past few weeks, but his power numbers are still not worthy of a middle of the order hitter. He has not drawn a walk in 27 games this season. His free-swinging ways are hampering his production.
Derrek Lee struggled for much of April, causing many to wonder if injuries had finally finished the first baseman. Lee has driven in only six runs in 27 games. In the past week, Lee has batted .345. He may finally be picking it up, but so far has not been worth his free-agent contract.
Perhaps most puzzling of all the Orioles struggling hitters is Nick Markakis. Markakis' average hovered around .200 for most of the entire first month of the season, while exhibiting very little power.
Markakis has not typically been a slow starter in his career, which could be cause for concern. His power numbers have declined steadily over the past three seasons. The Orioles are paying Markakis like he is a premium player. He has not produced at this level since signing his six-year $66 million contract. The Orioles probably overpaid for Markakis, and his large contract makes him one of the faces of the franchise.
Markakis is too good a player to allow the weak hitting ways of April to continue, but he may never live up to the expectations laid on him by his contract.
Several of the Orioles supposed future starts have had inconsistent starts to their season. Matt Wieters has shown flashes of brilliance at the plate so far, but has not produced consistently as his .241 average proves. Adam Jones leads the Orioles in home runs, but his high strikeout rate and low walk rate have been holding him back. Both of these players need to mature offensively for the Orioles to win this season.
The Orioles have batter only .237 through their first 27 games. The offense has too much talent for this weak average to continue. The offense has shown signs of life in the past week, but it is the starting pitching that has allowed the Orioles to be somewhat competitive in the early season.
The Orioles have long had highly regarded pitching prospects. They are finally seeing a return on their investment in young pitching. Rookie Zach Britton has been phenomenal. After an excellent spring training season, Britton has not missed a beat at the Major League level. With five wins and a 2.63 ERA, Britton has lived up to the hype.
Jeremy Guthrie has sustained the success he experienced in the second half last season. Guthrie has delivered four quality starts and a 3.00 ERA in his six starts, but has not been rewarded with wins due to poor run support.
Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergesen have not been as consistent as Guthrie and Britton, but have generally given the Orioles a chance to win when they start. All have been shelled at some point this season, but the results have been mostly promising.
While the Orioles starting rotation has pitched to a 3.93 ERA this season, and delivered 16 quality starts, several key members of the bullpen have struggled. Orioles relievers have pitched to a 5.48 ERA this season. Baltimore will not continue winning if this trend continues. The bullpen has failed to keep the Orioles in games this season. The bullpen has allowed more home runs than the starting rotation this season.
After one month of baseball, the Baltimore Orioles have given their fans plenty to be happy about. Expectations are higher than usual in Baltimore. The Orioles can look forward to the return of Brian Matusz. Paired with Britton and Guthrie, the Orioles will have a legitimate top three in their rotation, something that has not been true for a long time.
Matusz's return will allow Bergesen or Tillman to move to the bullpen, which should provide some stability. After some early struggles, the Orioles offense will hit its stride soon. Production has already begun picking up in the last week. With a little bit more offense and continued quality starting pitching, there is no reason the Orioles cannot break their string of losing seasons.
Last year, 27 games in, the Orioles sat in last place at 7-20, and a winning season seemed never to come. This year they are 13-14, having made great strides, a winning season is in the not so distant future for the Baltimore Orioles.