Nearly every sign a positive one for Orioles

Nearly every sign a positive one for Orioles
June 20, 2013, 10:15 am
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Sports Talk Live on Orioles pitching depth

Just eight games away from the season’s halfway point, nearly every sign is a positive one for the Orioles.

They’re winning series against difficult opponents, hitting well and getting clutch performances from their bullpen.

In the last month, the Orioles have played 10 series, and lost just one of them. In the last three weeks, they’ve twice taken two of three from Detroit, beaten Boston three of four and Los Angeles two of three. All this without having swept even a three-game series.

At 42-31, they’re 11 games over .500 for the first time this season, and playing better than they have at any time this year.

Chris Davis and Manny Machado have proven that they’re not merely hitters on a hot streak; they’re superior hitters who are helped by having other outstanding ones in the lineup.

Against right-handed pitching, manager Buck Showalter deftly alternates left-handed and right-handed bats: Nate McLouth, Machado, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Davis.

Showalter, who can play superior players at seven positions most nights has shown an ability to adapt. Normally disdainful of the steal, Showalter has allowed McLouth to steal, and he’s stolen 24 of 27 bases.

Yes, the Orioles have the second-worst ERA in baseball, but the Tampa Bay Rays, who are supposedly overstocked with superior pitchers, have an ERA that’s just a little bit better.

The bullpen has recently been wonderful. For all the sniping at Jim Johnson last month, he’s now saved more games at this point than he did in 2012. Last year, Johnson missed a week in April and three resulting save chances because of illness. He had 22 saves then. Now, he has 26.
Tommy Hunter has gone 11 straight outings without a home run. Brian Matusz and Darren O’Day continue to be effective.

Starting pitching has been inconsistent. Jason Hammel, who starts Friday after missing a few days with a stomach virus, has a winning record despite an ERA of nearly six.

Wei-Yin Chen, who was the most consistent starter for the season’s first six weeks, hasn’t pitched since then because of a strained left oblique muscle. He most likely will return in early July after missing about six weeks.

In Chen’s absence, Chris Tillman has been the most effective starter. He has eight wins and a dogged determination to pitch through adversity. Miguel Gonzalez, who’ll pitch as a father on Saturday for the first time, has shown that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke.

With the return of Chen, the rotation is likely to be much better in the second half of the season, and though he had a bad first outing on Wednesday, Kevin Gausman will probably return as a more mature and accomplished pitcher.

The schedule is probably in the Orioles’ favor, too. They got their brutal AL West trip out of the way in the season’s first month, and though they have an eight-game NL West journey to San Diego, San Francisco and Arizona in August, their travel for the last six weeks of  the season doesn’t take them out of the Eastern time zone.

Second base continues to be an issue. While some fans complain that the team hasn’t gotten anything out of the position, that’s not true. The Orioles have gotten excellent defense from Ryan Flaherty, and to a lesser extent, Alexi Casilla.

Brian Roberts is itching to return, and is probably not very far away, and if the position continues to vex, perhaps Norfolk’s Jonathan Schoop, who should be able to play in the next several weeks, can be a late season option at second. Schoop is sidelined with a stress fracture in his lower back, 

Besides Roberts, the Orioles have gotten little from Nolan Reimold, who has been out as long as Chen with a strained right hamstring. He’s starting his rehab at Bowie this week, and could join the team next week.

Chris Dickerson and Danny Valencia have provided some big hits with Reimold and Wilson Betemit sidelined. Betemit hasn’t played at all this season, and his return is still weeks away.

Even the disappointments: Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and the absence of Roberts, have been merely sidebars.

It’s looking likelier that the team will be in the market for another starter, though what they’ll surrender in return might not be enough.

The fans are certainly enjoying the show. The Orioles have the third largest increase in home attendance in the major leagues and fans in Baltimore and elsewhere have Davis, Jones, Markakis and J.J. Hardy in All-Star voting lead. Machado and Wieters are solid seconds.

The Orioles trail Boston by just 1 ½ games for the AL East lead and are the leading wild card team.

There’s no reason this team can’t play well into October.