At the All-Star break the Baltimore Orioles find themselves ten games over .500 and, much more importantly, in first place in the AL East. Not only are they in first place, but also they have emerged as clearly the best team in the AL East. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Rays are no longer in the pennant race. The New York Yankees injuries have caused them to go from being a good team to just an average team. The Toronto Blue Jays were clearly overachieving at the beginning of the year, and over the past couple months have reverted to the form that caused them to finish last in the AL East last year. All this to say, the Baltimore Orioles are clearly the best team in the AL East, and even if Toronto and New York acquire some help near the trade dead line, it’s hard to envision either of the teams winning the AL East over Baltimore.
Though the Orioles are the best team in their division, it is also clear that they are not as good as the Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics, and quite possibly the Los Angeles Angels. The O’s have a chance to do something special this year; therefore, they should not be content with just winning the AL East, but they should be formulating a team that gives them the best chance to make a deep run in the playoffs.
Currently the Baltimore Orioles have three weaknesses that should be addressed either within or outside of the organization: second base, starting pitching, relief pitching.
Much to the aggravation of my readers, I recently wrote an article simply stating that Jonathan Schoop may not be our best option at second base. I hinted at the end of that article that the Birds have a player in Triple-A who has speed (8 stolen bases) to go along with an on base percentage over .400. This player is of course Jemile Weeks. If Jemile Weeks replaced Schoop, the Orioles would become a faster team and a team with a higher on base percentage (currently two weakness of the Orioles).
Currently the Orioles bullpen has a combined ERA of 3.39 (good enough for sixth in the AL). However, this decent ERA has been achieved in large part to Darren O’Day (1.11 ERA) and Zach Britton (1.30 ERA) who also, not coincidentally, lead the bullpen in innings pitched. The Orioles have tried many options in their bullpen some successfully (T.J. McFarland, Brad Brach) and some unsuccessfully (Josh Stinson, Preston Guilmet, Evan Meek).
Given the Orioles starters propensity for short outings, they have a need for several good bullpen arms. One cannot just be reliant on a good back end 8th and 9th inning bullpen arms, as the Orioles often need a bridge from the 6th to the 8th inning. The answer (based on the inconsistencies of people like Stinson, Guilment, Meek) does not appear to be within the organization. Therefore, the Orioles need to sure up their bullpen with help from outside the organization via trade. This should be a legitimate possibility as solid relievers come at a far cheaper price than solid starters.
Assuming Ubaldo Jimenez is able to come back from his injury shortly after the All-Star break, the Orioles would have six pretty good, albeit inconsistent, starters. The Orioles are hoping that Jimenez pitches the second half of the season like he pitched the second half of last year’s season. Chris Tillman appears to be a different pitcher almost every time out. The Orioles are hoping that Tillman can find the consistency the he had last year.
In Miguel Gonzalez’s last two starts, he’s thrown 16 innings while only given up three earned runs. The Orioles are hoping that this is the Gonzalez that they see for the rest of the year. The Orioles are hoping that Bud Norris can return from his groin strain injury and look like the guy he was in the first half of the year. The Orioles are hoping that Wei-Yin Chen does not tire out as he has past history of pitching poorly after July (4-9 with an ERA well over 5). The Orioles are hoping the rookie Kevin Gausman continues to improve and finds ways to pitch deeper into games.
The Orioles ‘hope’ the starting rotation works out and if everything works out, best-case scenario they will be fine with the sixth guys they have. However, if something goes wrong, whether generic pitching struggles or some sort of injury within the rotation, the Orioles have virtually no help coming in the farm system. Therefore, one can either hope for the best, wait for a miracle like Dylan Bundy to come up through your farm system (which is looking more and more unlikely), or the Orioles can go out and acquire another proven arm to sure up the rotation.
Right now, sitting atop the AL East, the Orioles have positioned themselves to win the pennant. However, now is not the time to sit back and enjoy being in first place, now is the time to solidify your spot at the top of the AL East and to arm your team for a playoff run. The O’s have an opportunity to do something special this year; it’s time for them to be buyers and make the move(s) that put them over the top.
Image Credit: Keith Allison