Jul 8, 2014; Washington, DC, USA; A rainbow seen over the field during a rain delayed game between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: Progress Made from Just Two Years Ago

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The same storm or storms that postponed the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals game to Monday, August 4th came through my home area previously, knocking out power and internet connections … I think so. I say “think so” because I don’t know any details at all. I’m cut off from the world with no power or connections. I can see that the internet provider is not operating. I simply heard a one-sentence announcement on the car radio that the game has been postponed.

So, this is a challenge to write an article on battery power and candlelight. Late at night here on Tuesday evening, I don’t know what the teams are planning to do about pitching assignments for Wednesday – if they will continue with the original plan just pushed back a day or what?

I thought it might be interesting to look back to this week just two years ago and see what I was writing about the Orioles at the beginning of July. And it is really encouraging to review and see how far the Baltimore Orioles have indeed progressed from that time.

I wrote an article in the first week of July 2012 about what the Orioles needed to address for the second half of the season to be a success. And it certainly was! For the first half of the season the Birds were 44-37, but they then put up a record of 49-32 for the second half.

The text that I include here in italics is excerpted from that article of just two years ago this week…

To repeat an already worn-out theme: this is better than practically anyone would have expected in, say, March. Though everyone would acknowledge some good things have happened for the Orioles this year, I don’t think most Birds fans have a confident sense of expectation for the rest of the year. Much of that is the “14-year history,” though more of it has to do with inconsistency of performance, the common RISP problems, and glaring defensive errors.

If you recall from the spring of 2012, there were few people expecting the Orioles to contend. Most would have been thrilled with a simple .500 season. The O’s had a great start in April, but then did not do as well in the second quarter of the year; and you can see from what I wrote that there was a lot of worry and lack of confidence that even the good first half of the year could be repeated. Inconsistent play and problems with RISP sometimes still continue to be an issue, but we may forget what incredible strides have been made defensively in the past two years. Not only was it successfully addressed for the second half of 2012, it became the foundation for setting all-time records in 2013. Who would have seen that happening just two years ago today?

Right now, the Orioles have only about one-half of a regular line-up of high performers in the field and at the plate. Think about it!  That statement may have even been generous. There is Adam Jones in center and Matt Wieters at catcher. Sometimes J.J. Hardy, Chris Davis, and Wilson Betemit rise to high performance standards, and Nick Markakis is on the road back. But that’s it … everyone else is a fill-in at this point. The Orioles need to particularly have the latter four names pick it up and carry this team.

At this point, the Orioles are only “filling in” at catcher and second base. The catcher situation has been at least adequate and only exists because of the season-ending injury to Wieters. And Jonathan Schoop is growing and learning on the job; and it would not be a big surprise to see him suddenly turn the corner into a high level of performance.

In 2012 I especially “went off” on the issue of third base …

This is a huge problem. There really is not a visible solution. I don’t know how to evaluate any trade possibilities for such, as it seems too far into the speculative to comment upon. But the internal options are all rather poor defensively. This is becoming a top priority for the offseason.

Of course this was still a few weeks before Manny Machado was moved to third in the minors for a few games, and then brought to the Orioles where the whole defense made a dramatic shift.

I was also fretting about left field in 2012 …

With Nolan Reimold out of the equation, insert Avery. He has the tools, will be a best choice on defense, and can maybe grow over the next 81 games to become a regular player in the major leagues.

Now the Orioles have Nelson Cruz, Delmon Young, Steve Pearce and David Lough as options. That is quite a difference.

And not only that, first base was even a concern at this point just two years ago …

There are a number of choices (hopefully which do not include Nick Johnson). Actually, Mark Reynolds is the best defensively (I’ll pause for a moment while the words “Mark Reynolds” and “best defensively” sink in as having been used in the same sentence without a negative).  Chris Davis should be put here and worked with and worked with to make it a positive situation. He has looked so horrible at digging any throws out of the dirt, etc… but the guy has the ability and his bat needs to stay in the lineup most days. He could be a star player if he can learn consistency at the plate. He’ll probably always be a streaky hitter, but few people can spank a ball as he does. He has to play until he proves like Mark Reynolds has (imho) that, nice guy aside, he needs to take a train somewhere else.

Yes, I was one of those who did not grieve the loss of Mark Reynolds, though he did play better after this article was written, especially defensively at first base. But look at how far Crush was from being considered an every-day player at that time.

The leadoff position was unclear in the middle of 2012 with Brian Roberts injured yet again, and I am pleased to see how wise I actually was on this subject, even if I was pretty wrong on a couple of others …

OK… call me crazy on this one. Hey, I know the name coming up is not the quintessential leadoff guy … I argued for this actually all the way back to early spring training … OK … here it comes: Nick Markakis. I know he is not the base stealing threat that is desired, but he works pitchers and gets on base at a decent percentage. And remember, this person only really leads off once a game most times.

Markakis has proven to be a serviceable, if not approaching terrific, leadoff hitter for the Orioles this year. Few others hit at his pace. I would like to chart that for you, but that will have to wait for electricity to get to me.

Complaining about the pitching rotation is a perennial Baltimore song

And I was complaining about the pitching rotation as well, which is a perennial Baltimore song, but with good reason. But look at this paragraph and see if it does not make you feel better about where we are at here in 2014 at this point, compared to just two years ago.

The Starting Rotation – How many in March would have predicted Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen to be our 1-2 guys at the halfway point?  Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter had to go down – where maybe someone there can help them the way someone somewhere helped Chris Tillman. So, let’s go with Tillman for a while and hope for good things to repeat – but 97 mph in the 9th inning in not a fluke!!  Jake Arrieta is maddening. His ball has so much movement; how can he not dominate? And hopefully Zach Britton can be brought on to put together a solid second half. It is not crazy to imagine these five names being a winning combination.

Of course, Tillman did really come through in a big way, as did an unknown fellow at the time – Miguel Gonzalez. Also, the bullpen was the strength of the team, which I commented upon positively in that piece.

All in all, the Baltimore Orioles in July 2014 are in a much better place than were the Birds of 2012 in terms of personnel. Even so, it will be difficult to replicate a 49-32 second half, but they are off to a good start so far at 7-1. And unlike 2012, the rest of the AL East is not in the condition they were at that time. It is all very encouraging, even if it is still frustrating at times when men are left on base and starters don’t get deep into a game.

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