Now that the 2014 season for the Baltimore Orioles has gone through the month of April, what are the highlights so far, as well as the biggest disappointments?
Actually, there may be one more game in April this evening (Wednesday 4/30), though the weather situation is not promising. The plan is for the Orioles to play the Pirates in the first of two games, with yesterday’s game now being postponed to Thursday. A preview of today’s game – posted yesterday – can be found HERE. After beginning the season with a 6-3 record, Pittsburgh has gone 4-13 since.
But in thinking back over the first month, let’s identify both five highlights and five disappointments …
Baltimore Orioles April Highlights
Matt Wieters resurgence – I believe this is the story of the year so far with the Orioles. Honestly, I did not see this coming. I had given up on Wieters as anything more than an average-hitting catcher with nice occasional power and great defensive skills. Currently Matt is hitting .338 with four homers and 15 RBIs. And he is doing it from both sides of the plate.
Nelson Cruz proves to be a bargain so far – There is no doubt that Cruz is a great hitter, but I don’t think anyone foresaw this month of April that he has enjoyed. His seven home runs and 25 RBIs would put him on pace for 47 homers and 169 runs knocked in! It was an offseason goal for the Orioles to solidify and enhance the DH spot in the order. Right now the Orioles are about 90-100 points higher at DH than the average in 2013.
Zach Britton’s dominance – That Zach Britton is often unhittable is not surprising after seeing him in spring training, but it would not have been assumed prior to that. These 95 mph sinkers are just about the nastiest looking pitches in baseball right now. Britton has a 1.17 ERA in 10 games with 15.1 innings pitched. Some folks are clamoring for him to become a starter. But at his current pace he will appear in 67-68 games instead of 30 or so as a starter. He is on pace to throw 103 innings – these innings being at more critical times of games than the 180 approximate total innings he would accumulate if made into a starter.
Chris Tillman as staff ace – Even though Tillman had his worst outing in three years in his last performance, the first four starts of the season were stellar. It is clear that Tillman is the best pitcher on the staff and that his prior year-and-a-half performance was no flash in the pan. He is a legit top of the rotation sort of starter.
Jonathan Schoop is not overwhelmed – This too is another area of pleasant surprise for me. Schoop did not drill minor league pitching last year, and his Arizona Fall League performance was very mediocre. But to be fair, he had some injury issues to overcome, and this very, very young man filled out his frame in impressive fashion. Though Schoop has had to often play out of position this season, and though he is clearly seen to be often learning on the job, the guy is certainly not in over his head whatsoever. His swing is a thing of beauty, and when he squares up a ball, it jumps off his bat. I don’t see any reason to not keep him in Baltimore, and that is something I would not have written only five to six weeks ago.
Baltimore Orioles April Disappointments
Ubaldo Jimenez – So far, Jimenez has shown why the Orioles (and many other teams) are very slow to make long-term commitments to pitchers. The euphoria that immediately followed the surprising $50 million signing of Jimenez is long gone. Instead, after five starts, he has pitched only 27 innings – allowing 20 earned runs on 33 hits and 17 walks. Opponents are batting a perfect .300 against him, and all of this adds up to an ERA of 6.59.
You know what is coming next, right? Yes, Jimenez is a notoriously slow starter in his career. What else is there to hang hopes on than that historic truth? Well, I will say that his ball movement is about as good as anyone’s on the Orioles. However, his ability to command the baseball is the absolute worst. Too many balls drift into the sweet spots, and too many drift out of the zone altogether and put extra runners on base and add to pitch counts. This investment may yet pay off; but people with concerns are not crazy!
The inability of the starters to go deep into games – This is not a headline. In fact, most Orioles fans would likely have chosen this out of a list of possible problems as the most likely thing to go wrong for the Birds. It is not a new problem. But, even with only 24 games in the books and basically five turns through the rotation, the trend line is improving. It needs to.
The power loss of the offense – Would you have believed me if I told you a month ago that the Orioles would end April being out-homered by opponents 29 to 17? Or how about this – Would you have believed me before opening day if I told you that Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and J.J. Hardy would only hit three home runs in their combined 253 plate appearances in April?
The worst winter in recent memory has turned into the worst April for baseball in many years, and that weather has been a contributing factor. And honestly, power is not everything. The Baltimore Orioles are still the #5 offense in the American League, and they have been at the top in terms of batting average with runners in scoring position.
Chris Davis injury – Even without the injury, Davis might have made this list. April of 2014 has looked nothing like the incredible first month of 2013 with its nine home runs. Clearly, Crush is being pitched entirely different than before – evidenced by his high number of walks and .372 OBP. The over-shifts are seen everywhere. Davis is going to have to make adjustments to such factors.
But before he can make the adjustments, he is going to need to get back onto the field after his stint on the DL with the oblique injury. There is much uncertainty surrounding this, and one has to wonder what the long-term ramifications of this will be for a fellow of his size and strength. Will he be able to prevent a recurrence of such troubles?
David Lough is too low – Lough is not going to be an all-star … not this year. and likely not any year. But the talent appears to be there to have a productive player with a variety of skills. The concussion-like symptoms have been a setback, and I have to wonder if there was not more to that issue than was publicly known. But in any event, a recent win that was largely facilitated by Lough’s three hits, base running, and defensive plays was a demonstration of what he is able to do to make a total difference in a game. I still think Lough is going to become a fan favorite in Baltimore, but it won’t happen with his current .172 batting average, no matter how many highlight reel catches he makes.