Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Optimism, Meet Reality

The Baltimore Orioles have been a pleasant surprise this season, fashioning a 35-26 record through 61 games and standing in 2nd place in the AL East, 1 game behind the division leading Yankees.

How have they managed this?

The O's offense is 10th in the AL in hitting but 6th in runs scored thanks to 3rd in HR.  O's pitching is 6th in the AL.  O's defense has committed more errors than any team in MLB.  I credit Sparky for pointing out to me that, despite the mistake-prone defense, the O's retire 70% of batters who put the ball in play, which is the league average.

So, it would appear that slightly above average pitching, average defense and above average home run hitting will keep you in the hunt in the AL East.

Can the O's keep it going?

The offense is performing at a sustainable level.  They finished 4th in the AL in HR in 2011, so 3rd now is not a big surprise.  Nothing else they've done looks like over-achievement to me.  They just got Brian Roberts back in the lineup for game 61.  He went 3-4 with an RBI.  If he remains healthy, the offense is considerably improved.

The defense is under performing.  MLB leading error total is an embarrassment.  I realize that someone has to lead MLB in errors, but if you want to compete in the AL East, it has to be someone else.  Again, Roberts return improves the defense, not only at 2nd base but should improve at 3rd as well. If he remains healthy.

The pitching is the big bugaboo.  The Orioles bullpen is the best in MLB.  Orioles starters are 11th in the AL.  The bullpen is full of good arms and every man in the pen is pitching well in a clearly defined role.  The bullpen may be able to sustain this performance if it's kept fresh and rested.

A fresh and rested bullpen is the problem.  O's starters are, once again, failing to carry the load, although not nearly as badly as past seasons.  Innings pitched/start for the O's rotation in April was 6.04 (good). 5.80 (ok for a short time) in May and 5.5 (bullpen scorching) so far in June.

Alas, the Orioles starting pitching is not good enough to hang.  Once that bullpen is burned up, the O's will sink like a stone in the standings.  Chen and Hammel are carrying the load.  Maybe they'll continue to do so.  Matusz, Arrieta and Hunter are not.  Those 3 are young, maybe they'll pick it up.  Maybe Zach Britton gets healthy and in a groove and steps back into the rotation. Maybe Jamie Moyer can join  the rotation and teach these youngsters how to last.  Maybe....