It’s getting late for the Orioles. After three disheartening defeats to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Orioles return home with a 65-55 record, not bad, but behind four teams in the American League playoff hunt.
This Orioles team is in many ways better than last year. It’s more balanced offensively, strikes out fewer times and gets on base more.
Chris Tillman could easily have 16 wins now. A year ago, their leading starter, Wei-Yin Chen won only 12. Their starting pitching is probably better in many ways than in 2012.
The bullpen is not. Jim Johnson’s ninth blown saves have Orioles fans in arms. Many are calling for Francisco Rodriguez to replace him. Would the team suddenly be better with K-Rod in the ninth and Johnson in the eighth? If Johnson was no longer the closer, where would be pitch?
Johnson has had two other rough patches this season, and both times he pitched out of them and went on long rolls. In his three recent saves, he’s allowed three runs and seven hits in three innings.
That’s not what Orioles fans want their closer to do, but it’s not as if he’s giving up five runs in an outing. He’s giving up a run and then recovering to finish the inning without further damage.
The success of Buck Showalter’s teams has been tied in with Johnson, and the manager isn’t going to easily forget it.
With 42 games left, the Orioles need to go on an extended run. A 25-17 record would get them to 90 wins, and they’ll probably have to do better to get into the playoffs.
They have three games left with Oakland and seven each with Tampa Bay and Boston. All three teams are ahead of them in the playoff hunt. They also play three with Cleveland, a dark horse playoff contender.
The last six-plus weeks should be fascinating, and if the Orioles want to play for at least a seventh week, a recovery must start this weekend.