The Baltimore Orioles need a winning streak. Enough of this win one / lose one stuff! Teams that win championships have multiple winning streaks during their seasons, or at least times where they do what the Jays did recently – win 25 out of 32 games.
The Orioles are currently 37-35, two games over .500. The lowest they have been is 2-5 on April 7th and the highest at 20-14 on May 20th. The intervening time between those dates saw the O’s have a record of 18-9. That series of 27 games began after a four-game losing streak and ended with a five-game winning streak – the longest of the season so far.
Obviously, you just can’t dial up a winning streak or hot streak. But there are a number of component factors that contribute to such a “season” within a season. Among them would be solid defense, consistent pitching, timely hitting, contributions from role players, and star players who carry the team.
So how are the Baltimore Orioles in each of these facets?
Solid Defense – This is a strength of the Orioles. Even in the loss last night, it was defense that kept the Birds in the game and afforded them the chance to win it. Adam Jones threw out a player at the plate. And in one inning alone, Manny Machado made a diving catch on a bunt, Chris Davis caught a difficult foul ball along the railing, and Ryan Flaherty back-handed a bases-loaded grounder destined for center field and turned it into the final out of the inning. Even with J.J. Hardy’s recent streak of odd errors, the Orioles make lots of big plays and remain the best defense in MLB.
Consistent Pitching – Nothing has been more criticized about the Baltimore Orioles in recent years than the pitching, and there has been plenty of fodder provided by the pitching staff for this viewpoint. However, a lack of hitting and run scoring has cost the Orioles more games over the past three seasons than the pitching being ineffective. Everyone thought that when the starting pitchers would do their job (if that time ever came) that the desired winning record would automatically follow. Quality pitching has happened over the past two weeks, but the record is not really improved because of a concomitant lack of runs scored.
Timely Hitting – To those of you out there who look at the majority of the games as do I – do you think the Baltimore Orioles are a team with timely hitting? Do you really see this as a strength? There is a regular sense that the Birds cannot score when they have opportunity to do so, yet at the same time they have the best average with runners in scoring position. How can this be? Are fans everywhere else more frustrated than we are here in Maryland? That statistic would be more valuable if broken down into BA with RISP when games are close, not considering the times when everyone is piling on with a large lead (as if that really happens that much either!). In any event, this does not seem to me to be a team strength, even though in fairness I report that the Orioles rank high with this one statistic.
Contributions from Role Players – By this, I don’t just mean back-up players or pinch hitters. I am referring to those players on a team that fill out the lineup beyond the well-known stars and foundational players on a squad. Few teams are truly nine-deep throughout the order. Even the great teams of the past had a couple of players who were in the “average” category for their position. The reference here is that these players, while not being stars, come through at critical times to bridge a gap and not leave a vacuum space in the order. If the bottom three are rather automatic outs, this essentially means that your team only truly has six innings of potential offence in the game. And this has been a problem for the O’s … with the loss of Matt Wieters and subsequent replacements, along with the struggles at second base in particular. And over and over this season we have seen how the offense purrs nicely when the bottom of the order has a really good game at the plate.
Star Players Who Carry the Team – Do you have a feeling that I set you up by leaving this as the last point? Yes, you could feel it coming. Do the Orioles have star players who can carry a team? Silly question, yes, of course. Are they / have they / will they carry the team? Several star players have kept the O’s from sinking, though I don’t know that any have carried them. Nelson Cruz in particular has been the man on many occasions, though not so much lately. It is difficult to criticize much of anything about Nick Markakis, but he is not in a spot in the order to carry a team. Adam Jones has flashes and will be up and down at times, though in the end will pull his weight. Where has the J.J. Hardy power gone? And please stop using the word “grinding.” Manny Machado has done exactly what I expected and feared – returned from an injury in his second full season, and we won’t see an offensive threat from him until 2015. Let’s see, is there anyone else?
Oh yes, that fellow at first base, the one with the .220 average … the one everyone worried would not replicate 2013. Well, of course not. But honestly … .220? I’ve written about this previously. Chris Davis is going to have to make adjustments, or else we will never see anything at all that even remotely resembles 2013. The league has him figured out – both in pitching strategy and defensive placement. He has to break the overshift. He can risk becoming a spray hitter, as he will still hit more home runs accidentally than 99% of the rest of players ever could.
This is not to say something so simple or trite as, “Where Chris Davis goes, the Orioles go.” But he is the biggest puzzle piece for the hopes of this flock of Birds.
It would also help if there was not a vortex called “the Ubaldo Jimenez start.” Yesterday’s loss cannot be laid at his feet, and I’d not even lay it on Zach Britton either – he can’t be much better than he has been all year, even with last evening’s statistics added to his account. But Jimenez is at this moment a swirling vortex like that water we all see multiple times a day in the thing the Brits call the privy. The Orioles are 3-12 in games he has been the starter. Think about that: the Orioles are 34-23 in games not started by Ubaldo.
Remember that number 34-23? That was what the Baltimore Orioles were under Buck Showalter when he took over the team to end the 2010 season – and it looked so awesome and created such hope.
We need a winning streak around here! Maybe Budd Norris – who has never faced the Yankees in 143 career games – will get it started today … with Masahiro Tanaka getting thumped tomorrow!