Baltimore Orioles: Calibrating Early Expectations

May 14, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Detroit Tigers 9-3 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
May 14, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones (10) celebrates with teammates after defeating the Detroit Tigers 9-3 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

By any standard the beginning of this 2016 season for the Baltimore Orioles has been very good.

The loss yesterday and the way it happened was unfortunate and disappointing. Yet the Orioles were out-hit 13-7. Sometimes it just doesn’t fall your way.

Friends who are baseball critics sometimes complain to me about how painfully long is the baseball season. I always say that it is a sport that requires 162 games to sort out the best teams, because the margins of error are so small. Little things can make a game swing one way or the other at a critical time in a close contest. The first team may score two runs on dinker base hits, while the opposing team my hit three screamers right at defenders in the bottom of the same ninth inning.

Yesterday it was an umpire’s obviously poor call that was the hinge point of the game. He must have been thinking about his dinner reservation or something like that.

With a 23-13 record, the Baltimore Orioles are 10 games over .500. They were never more than seven games over that standard at any point in 2015. At the 36-game point in 2014 (the 96-win season), the Birds had a 20-16 record. They were 22-14 in each of two prior seasons. So this is a good start!

As Orioles fans, we all knew that the national prognosticators were incorrect in calling for the total demise of the O’s. It is an annual rite of passage for them, as predicable as the flowering of crocuses before the snow is all melted. So we can be pleased that the Birds are currently on a trajectory to win 103 games if they could sustain the current pace. Of course, at this point the Orioles have played 22 games at home (16-6) and only 14 on the road (7-7). The ability to win games on the road – a weakness of the team last year – will be a critical factor for what success is to be attained for this season.

Let’s just take a couple of minutes to think through the roster categorically, noting those players who are clearly on a good trajectory for this season versus those of whom we continue to have concerns about …

Players on a good trajectory

Position players – Little more commendatory could be added to what has already been said about the beginning of the season for both Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo. Each is to be found among the league leaders in multiple categories. Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop seem to have turned the corner on early slumps. Chris Davis is sufficiently contributing, though there is headroom for some higher numbers. Nolan Reimold is doing his job, when he gets to play. Joey Rickard is going to have some ups and downs, but his talent and quick bat should carry him through sufficiently.

PitchersChris Tillman has defined the concept of a bounce-back season. Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright are each contributing well and making the strides that young starters need to be accomplishing. Kevin Gausman has arrived, even considering yesterday. The back-end bullpen arms of Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and Dylan Bundy have thrown 79.2 innings between them and have a joint ERA of 2.32. Vance Worley’s ERA for 19.2 innings that include two starts is 2.61.

Players of continued concern

Position players – Pedro Alvarez can obviously put a charge into a ball when he squares it up, and while looking better lately, he stills needs to build on a .205 average to contribute significantly and play more. Catchers Matt Wieters and Caleb Joseph provide the regular plus defense, but the Orioles could use more than a current .225 average between them. J.J. Hardy was not on a trajectory for an All-Star season, but he was sufficiently producing, and no replacement is likely to hit better. Ryan Flaherty is great for his defensive versatility, but I’ve long ago given up any hope that he can out-hit even Mario Mendoza (actually, they both have the same career batting average of .215).  

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Pitchers – It is no surprise that Ubaldo Jimenez is the first name here. He has a good game, then a bad game; rinse, repeat. And nothing has gone correctly for Brian Matusz in 2016, either in spring or for the early season. T.J. McFarland had mixed results but has only given up one run in 13 innings at AAA. Yovani Gallardo was an unnecessary acquisition in my view, and I am fine with his return being later, if ever.

But looking back through these summaries, in the big picture there are more Orioles players performing well than there are those that are scuffling along and trying to find their way in the early season. The big picture is rather bright. And again, can the Orioles be a winning team on the road? That might be the big question.