After 81 games (game 82 is being played as I type), the Orioles are-to this fan’s eyes-about where I expected they would be. Lingering somewhere near, but not quite at .500; improving in some areas and regressing in others. For the Orioles to get better, a few things have to happen.
First of all, the starting pitching has to improve. For far too many games, the starting pitching is failing to register a quality start. I don’t care what kind of offensive lineup you have, if your pitching can’t go at least six innings and give up 3 runs or less on something resembling a consistent basis, you don’t win baseball games. And this version of the Orioles isn’t the Murderer’s Row of the ’27 Yankees; nor is it resembling anything Earl Weaver had to work with during his pennant-winning years. The young arms have had some surprises: Jake Arrieta and Zach Britton have had their moments. However Brian Matusz has surely been a disappointment, and poor Jeremy Guthrie seemingly can’t win any games because when he does pitch well, the offense can’t get enough runs to support him. The second thing the Orioles will have to do is have some of those newly acquired bats to finally prove their worth. You can’t really complain about J.J. Hardy; he has done well, perhaps even exceeding expectations. Mark Reynolds, while not exactly wowing anyone with his defense at third, has proven to be a power threat in the lineup, having hit 20 home runs prior to the All-Star break. He has also cut down on his strikeouts and increased his walks, and his average-while not putting fear into the hearts of great hitters (or even average pitchers), is safely above the Mendoza line (for now). Certainly the bigger disappointments have been Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero-but truly, both are on the downside of good-to-great careers. The Orioles took chances on both of them and so far, it hasn’t worked quite the way it was drawn up in the spring.
There are some bright spots with the offense as well. In addition to Hardy and Reynolds, Nick Markakis as of late has been hitting the ball well. Adam Jones has played well enough that many thought the Orioles’ lone All-Star spot would’ve been his…except that it went to Matt Wieters. Wieters has been solid all year, and is playing better now that the “savior” hype has died down. He hasn’t been all-world, but he isn’t the biggest draft bust in MLB history, either. The three of them may be the core (perhaps along with Nolan Reimold, if he can get off the bench to prove it) of future Orioles lineups that may get better in years to come.
The Orioles may well be headed for the franchise’s thirteenth consecutive losing season. Not sure that anyone was expecting anything else, but hopefully for once, the bright spots may actually be positives down the road and not more disappointments for the ballclub. After all, hope is the only thing fans can cling to when it comes to the Birds.