• Jul

    The Orioles are in a freefall, is there a way out?

    Some fans are saying that the fans who see doom and gloom for the Orioles in the second half are being reactionary. But are they?

    I've even seen some fans say it was just one game, but unfortunately, it wasn't just one game. The Orioles are in their annual nose-dive and the intelligent Orioles fan who's been paying close attention could have seen the writing on the wall. Heck, even I was trying to ignore the signs because I just wanted a winner so badly I was willing to send away prospect (not Machado or Bundy) for a guy like Greinke, just so the Orioles had a better chance to stay above .500.

    So why are most Orioles fans seeing doom and gloom for this squad in the second half? When you consider  14 straight years of sub .500 records, 2005, the fact that we are 6-14 (.300) in our last 20 games, and by looking at a ridiculously poor lineup that bats a .260 OBP guy second and 41-year old guy who was a pinch hitter for Philadelphia as our number three batter, and the smart fan knows it's more than just one game.

    It's not a question of if we are going to implode, because we have been imploding over the last 20 games. We are already in the free fall and when you look at the this lineup and rotation (especially if Hammel goes out for any extended time), and it's going to be a long brutal second half.  This isn't a rant, and it's not reactionary, it's just the cold hard facts.

    Here are some more facts:

    Orioles rankings in AL:

    R/G - 4.10 (LG AVG 4.46) 12th of 14
    SB - 31 (LG AVG 56) 14th of 14
    BB - 238 (LG AVG 271) 12th of 14
    SO - 700 (LG AVG 620) 13th of 14
    AVG - .239 (LG AVG .255) 11th of 14
    OBP - .301 (LG AVG .321) 12th of 14
    SLG - .400 (LG AVG .410) 10th of 14
    OPS - .701 (LG AVG .731) 11th of 14
    GDP - 85 (LG AVG 68) 14th of 14th
    - This is probably one of the most ridiculous stats and the most damning evidence of the slow-footed team the Orioles have on the field. How are you 12th in the league in OBP but first in grounding into double plays?

    Errors - 76 (LG AVG 54) 14th of 14
    FLD%- .977 (LG AVG .983) 14th of 14

    R/G - 4.58 (LG AVG 4.37) 10th of 14
    ERA - 4.08 (LG AVG 4.03) 9th of 14
    WHIP - 1.31 (LG AVG 1.31) 9th of 14

    So basically we are about league average in most pitching categories, mainly because our bullpen has been so good, but the Orioles hitting and fielding have been atrocious.

    Will it get better? I'm not so sure. Nick Markakis' return will help a bit but he hasn't hit more than 18 home runs or put up an OPS over .805 since .2008. He's a number two hitter being asked to bat leadoff due to no better options.

    Manager Buck Showalter keeps trying to force a square peg into a round hole by batting JJ Hardy second. Hardy has a .259 on base percentage and has grounded into a team leading 13 double plays. He has no sacrifices and his .635 OPS is the 9th worse in the American League among qualifiers.

    However, maybe nothing shows the desperation of the Orioles lineup situation then the fact that Buck batted 41-year old Jim Thome 3rd last night. Thome is a sure-fire Hall of famer, but he's struggled since coming over in a trade and the sad part is, he may have been the best option.

    Why was he probably the best choice, because Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters have not exactly been tearing the cover off the ball.

    Since batting a season high .315 on May 29th, Davis has gone  21-108 (.194) with four doubles and five home runs for a .620 OPS. He's struck out 35 times while walking eight times. Over the same time span, Jones has gone 34-140 (.243) with nine doubles and four home runs for a .672 OPS. Amazingly Jones has decided he doesn't like walking and has only walked five times while striking out 14 times over this time period.

    Wieters has hit fairly well overall over this time frame going 35-127 (.276) with eight doubles and four home runs for a .771 OPS. He's actually taken some walks (12) and has struck out just 21 times. The problem with Wieters is that's he struggled against right-handed pitching putting up just  .678 OPS against them this season in 241 PAs while he's crushed left-handers to a 1.020 OPS in 81 PAs.

    Wieters is probably the best choice to bat third overall with Thome batting 5th, but Buck might be protecting Jones a bit by batting Wieters 5th so managers can't pitch around Jones late in a game then bring in a lefty to face Thome.

    There is nothing to describe Mark Reynolds other than being awful this year. You can live with Reynolds' strikeouts and low average when he's walking and popping homers out at a 30+ clip, but Reynolds power his mysteriously been missing this season. His ISO (.173) is .067 below is career average and .089 below his mark last season for the Orioles when he hit 37 homers. Reynolds can no longer play third base so his value has even diminished more, despite the fact he's played a decent defensive first base. The Orioles little choice other than run him out every day because he's the one guy that could get hot and carry this offense for a few games. Unless he suddenly turns things around, the chances of the Orioles picking up his $11 million option next year is remote.

    So how can the Orioles hope to be better offensively in the second half? Well, Buck needs to make a few adjustments in his lineup in my opinion.

    First off, I'm glad to see him put Markakis at leadoff. He doesn't have any speed, but if Nick just gets on base and forgets about power, he might be a good option up there for now. Ultimately he's a great number two hitter, but I'll take him batting leadoff. 

    The rest of the lineup is going to have to depend on who the other team starts.  If a right-hander is on the mound, Wilson Betimit has to bat second instead of Hardy. This is such a no-brainer that I'm perplexed as to why Buck continues to bat Hardy there. Betemit's .848 OPS and .345 OBP against right-handers means he needs to be batting  up higher and second is a nice spot.

    I wish we had a better option but the Orioles need to hope Thome has something left in the tank and bat him third. Jones, Wieters, Davis, Reynolds, Hardy and Andino/Flaherty.

    Notice I have  Ryan Flaherty in there with Andino. I have nothing against Andino and in fact I think he's a good little utility player to have on your team, but he's over exposed playing every day at second base.  Flaherty hasn't had much of a chance but over his last 43 PAs, he's batting .300 (12-40) with a .708 OPS. The Orioles need to see what they have in Flaherty and although he may not cover a ton of ground at second base, he seems pretty sure handed in the bit he's been over there.  At the end of the day, the Orioles can't keep playing a guy with a .600 OPS against right-handers every game against them. I think it's time to give Flaherty a look at second base against right-handers.

    RHP batting order:
    1 . Markakis - RF
    2. Betemit - 3B
    3. Thome - DH
    4. Jones - CF
    5. Wieters - C
    6. Davis - LF
    7.  Reynolds - 1B
    8.  Flaherty - 2B
    9.  Hardy - SS

    LHP batting order:
    1. Markakis - RF
    2. Hardy (.337 OBP against LHP) - SS
    3. Wieters - C
    4. Jones - CF
    5. Reynolds - 1B
    6.  Pearce - LF
    7.  Davis/Thome - DH
    8.  Betemit - 3B (Wish we had Tolleson here)
    9.  Andino - 2B

    The Orioles are in a free fall but if Jones, Davis and Reynolds bats wake up and Buck goes with more of a matchup approach to his lineup, the offense can improve.

    Now with Jason Hammel looking like he may be out for a good bit with a knee injury, the Orioles are going to need not only Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez to pitch well over the second half, but probably need Brian Matusz or Jake Arrieta to do so as well.

    Although no one wants to admit it, it appears the baseball Gods remembered we are the Orioles. This second half has a chance to be brutal unless Dan Duquette is able to make some changes. If he doesn't and he rides this out, the Orioles are looking at their 15th straight losing season.


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Tony Pente

Tony has owned and operated Orioles Hangout since 1996 and is well known for his knowledge of the Baltimore Orioles organization from top to bottom. He's a frequent guest on Baltimore-area sports radio stations and can be heard regularly on the 105.7 FM The Fan. His knowledge and contacts within the Orioles minor league system and the major league baseball scouting industry is unparalleled in the Baltimore media and is known as an expert on the Orioles prospects.