On Friday, the Orioles resume play at Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field, and with 75 games left, there are many concerns. Let’s look at five of them.
1. Will the Orioles’ starting pitching improve?
Everyone knows that the Orioles’ starters, except for Chris Tillman, have to get better in the season’s second half.
Tillman is the first Orioles pitcher to be 10 games over .500 at the All-Star break since Mike Cuellar in 1971.
His 12-2 mark is outstanding, but he’s barely averaging six innings a start. Tyler Wilson is the only other starter to average six innings a start, and he’s technically not even with the team right now.
In order for the Orioles to hold on to their lead, their starters are going to have to get more outs.
Only five times in the first 87 games has a starter gotten an out in the eighth inning, and it would be shocking if they continued to lead without longer starts.
2. Can they get some starting pitching elsewhere?
Other than better starts from the current starters, the only in-house solution seems to be Dylan Bundy, and he wouldn’t be providing deep starts.
Bundy has done a superb job of setting himself up as a starter, for 2017, by pitching well in multiple inning relief outings with multiple days of rest.
While he could start a few times in the final three months, the Orioles insist they want to get him through this season healthy.
With 18 days until the trading deadline, there will be countless rumors, but unlike the past three years, the Orioles don’t seem to have many minor league pitchers who will be attractive to teams looking to unload veterans.
Eleven teams are trailing division leaders by 12 or more games, so there should be a number of potential sellers.
Names that have been tossed around include Philadelphia’s Jeremy Hellickson, Oakland’s Rich Hill, San Diego’s Drew Pomeranz, and most intriguing, some from the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Orioles are quite familiar with Mike Moore and Jake Odorizzi, but would the Rays trade them, and what really do the Orioles have to offer?
3. Can the relief pitching be this good?
Brad Brach and Zach Britton were worthy All-Star choices, and their subpar outings in the first half were rare.
Showalter doesn’t want to overtax them in the second half, and it’s amazing that they’ve done this well with Darren O’Day sidelined.
O’Day has been out since June 3, and barring some wondrous recovery during the All-Star break, is probably a couple of weeks from returning.
After all this time away, O’Day will probably name several minor league rehab appearances, and his right hamstring injury has been prevented them.
Mychal Givens needs to get better against left-handers. They’re batting .404 against him. A year ago in his first go-around, they hit just .206.
That’s preventing manager Buck Showalter from using him in longer outings, putting more pressure on others in the bullpen.
With the Orioles adding left-handed specialist Donnie Hart, that may help.
Showalter is also hoping that Chaz Roe, who is out of options, will be effective—at least until O’Day returns.
4. Can the offense continue to make up for the starter’s shortcomings?
The offense has actually been as good as advertised. They’ve hit 137 home runs, and are on pace for 255.
Five batters: Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Jonathan Schoop, have at least 14.
Shockingly, they’re not among the league leaders in strikeouts, and their on-base percentage, which was just .307 this year, has risen markedly to .333, ranking them third in the American League.
The addition of Trumbo, Hyun Soo Kim and Joey Rickard have markedly helped.
They’re averaging more than five runs a game and haven’t been shut out in 50 games. In fact, they have scored at least two runs in each game since their last shutout, and have won the last two times they’ve scored just one run.
5. Can they get through the worst of their schedule?
The Orioles have won the most home games of any team in baseball, 33 and their 14 losses are tied for the fewest.
Unfortunately, their road record hasn’t been terribly strong (18-22), and that’s got to improve.
They’re in the midst of a stretch where 30 of 42 games are away from home, and beginning on Friday, play 30 games in 31 days including a one-day trip to Minnesota, three games in Toronto, and a 10-gamer to Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco.
If they can get through that with a lead, they should be fine.
Each of their last 45 games is in the Eastern time zone, and 31 of them are against the AL East. They’re 22-13 against the East.
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