Baltimore Orioles’ First Half Report Card Part 1
Who would have thought coming into the 2012 MLB season that the Baltimore Orioles (45-40), after 14 consecutive losing seasons near the bottom of the cellar in the American League East, would finish the first half above .500 let alone in 2nd place in their division.
Having watched the Birds over the last 15 years or so, I’ve seen many downs, and not too many ups. However, this season has proved to be quite the opposite to this point.
It still seems surreal to say that the Orioles sit seven games behind the New York Yankees for first place in the East at the break. The Birds just need to continue and maintain this second place advantage for the remainder of the year.
However, if they continue to play like they did towards the end of the first half, they need to make some major changes in order for them to make the playoffs for the first time since ’97.
One aspect of play has remained constant for the Birds the entire season: their strong bullpen. Fortunately, the Birds feature the best bullpen in the league and that has been the only aspect of their team that has performed well day in and day out.
Baltimore has lead the league in bullpen ERA for almost the entire season, and continue to lead the AL with a 2.75 ERA and sit 2 nd in the majors behind the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates, who sport a collective 2.63 ERA.
However, the Orioles continue to hold the best record out of the pen with a 17-6 mark, and they need to continue that strong relief pitching if they want to have the chance to qualify for the playoffs.
Every playoff team needs a great closer and the Orioles seem to have found one over the last couple of seasons. Jim Johnson (1-0, 1.26 ERA) has converted 26 of 27 opportunities this year. He’s tossed 37.1 innings over his 37 appearances, while he’s allowed just 19 base hits and surrendered five earned runs.
Not to mention, besides his numbers, Johnson has a great attitude and always has a winning demeanor out there on the mound. No matter what the situation is it seems like he has it under control and there is nothing to worry about; he is the rock out in the Birds’ pen.
I think he has transcended that type of calmness and sense of work ethic to his other bullpen mates. Luis Ayala (2-2, 2.48 ERA), maybe one of the most underrated arms out there, has been one of the strongest in relief this season; he’s tossed 40.0 innings and allowed just 23 base hits.
Pedro Strop (4-2, 1.67 ERA) burst onto the scene last September, and has made a name for himself as the setup man in front of Johnson; he has been lights out for the Birds and has put himself in perfect position for a possible promotion to closer early in his career.
Darren O’Day (5-0, 2.57 ERA) came out of nowhere this season and has contributed very much to the Birds’ strong pen; he’s tossed 35 innings over his 35 appearances, surrendered just 10 earned runs on 30 base hits, including four home runs, while he’s recorded 35 strikeouts.
Southpaw Troy Patton (1-0, 3.46 ERA) is putting together a strong season as well. He’s recorded 39 innings over his 33 appearances, allowed 31 base hits including five home runs, 15 earned runs, while he’s racked up 36 strikeouts on the year.
There’s only one bullpen member who sports an ERA above four; Kevin Gregg owns a 4.07 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched. Having just one member with an ERA right around four is something that the Orioles’ front office would have never predicted coming into this season.
So, needless to say, the bullpen is the one area where the Orioles do NOT need any roster moves; they definitely receive an A in my book as far as a grade. They have surprised everyone in the league, and their pen is the main reasons the Birds have stuck through and continue to battle in the East.
Offensively, although the Birds have been struggling as of late and runs have been hard to come by, they’ve put together a decent first half with the bats. I give them a C, mainly because their overall average is low and there is room for much-needed improvement.
As a team, the Birds are hitting just .240, which ranks them 26th in the majors and 11 th in the AL. However, they do feature a better offense than their counterpart, the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Birds have collected 694 base hits and scored 351 runs throughout the first 85 games of the year. On average, the black and orange score 4.13 runs per game, which is more indicative of their first couple months of the season when their offense was hitting off the charts.
One of the major reasons the offense has been struggling as of late is the fact that the Birds have hit in some very tough luck with RISP and RISP with two outs. Baltimore is batting a collective .243 with RISP and just .216 when there are two outs.
The Birds hit .249 in April and they smashed 30 home runs and delivered 89 RBI as they jumped out to a hot start. The Birds followed up their first month with a .248 average, 45 home runs and 124 RBI in May.
June was a tough month for the Orioles offensively; they dropped to a .236 collective batting average with just 24 long shots and 93 RBI. So far this month, they are struggling to reach the Mendoza line, as they are hitting just .197 with seven bombs and just 24 RBI.
Yes, it is a 162-game season and teams will run into slumps, unless you are the Yankees. Earlier in the year, the Birds were leading the world in home runs, but they have dropped off a bit, and sit with 106 on the year, good for third place in the AL.
Adam Jones is putting together his best season in his career as he is hitting .289 with 20 home runs and 44 RBI, while he has started every game for the Birds. He is their rock and he could use protection in the order.
That is one of the reasons the Orioles’ front office went out and bought Jim Thome , who has been one of the most prolific home run hitters of our time. Thome sits tied for sixth place with Sammy Sosa with 609 career home runs on the all-time list.
So, the Birds have already made an offensive roster move. Honestly, with Brian Roberts back, Jones hitting well, Thome in the mix, they have a strong core lineup.
J.J. Hardy is struggling this year after he posted 30 home runs in his first year with the black and orange; he’s hitting just .224 with 12 home runs and 33 RBI.
Chris Davis has slowed down and is hitting just .271 on the year with 14 home runs and 40 RBI. Yes, his numbers are strong, but he has dropped off a bit since his impressive May.
Although Matt Wieters is hitting just .247 on the year, he has delivered 12 home runs and 44 RBI. However, his importance to the team is not just rooted through power numbers. His main role is to work with the pitchers and make sure they are doing their job.
Once Nick Markakis returns to the lineup shortly after the break, the Birds offense will finally be where is has needed to be since last May when they lost Roberts due to that concussion.
With that said, the Birds could use one more power-hitting outfielder because Nolan Reimold will be out the rest of the year. They could always use Davis, Mark Reynolds or Wilson Betemit out there. However, if they could find possibly another slugger, they would be golden.
So, even though they have already added one of the most dominate home run-hitting sluggers of all-time to the mix, who knows how he will do in a Birds uniform. The Orioles definitely could use another power-hitting outfielder to bolster their sluggish offense.
Check out part two of my Orioles’ report card where I will analyze their starting pitching and defensive play over the first half of the 2012 MLB season.
By: Alex Van Rees
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