Through the season’s first two weeks, there are many reasons for the Orioles to be pleased, and a few to be concerned about.
With 11 games played, two fewer than originally scheduled, they have an 8-3 record, which is the best in the American League.
Their offensive numbers are terrific. They lead the league in home runs (23), batting average (.291), on-base percentage (.354), slugging percentage (.540) and OPS (.894).
The Orioles are second in runs (60) and hits (109).
That’s all great, especially the OBP, which was a huge disappointment last year at .307.
They’re not going to have an OBP this high all season long, and they’re probably not going to average more than two home runs per game all year, but they have skilled hitters who seemingly thrive among other skilled hitters.
Their younger hitters are improving.
Jonathan Schoop is still a very aggressive hitter, but in 85 games last year, walked just nine times and struck out 79. So far, he’s walked twice and struck out seven times. That’s not a game changer, but it’s a subtle change. If he can keep improving that, he’ll be a much more dangerous hitter.
Through 10 games, J.J. Hardy, another historically aggressive hitter has a .333 OBP. He’s never had an on-base percentage above .310 in his first five seasons with the Orioles.
While Matt Wieters (.233) and Pedro Alvarez (.167), haven’t been hitting as well as the Orioles would like, their OBPs (.324 for Wieters, .355 for Alvarez) suggest they’re not hurting the lineup as much as commonly believed.
Everyone knows about the great starts for Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo. Machado has hit in each of his first 11 games, and Trumbo had five home runs last week and sports a .386 average.
Adam Jones, who missed a week’s worth of at-bats, has just a .208 average, and while Rule 5 draft choice Joey Rickard had a hot start, his OBP of .320 is lower than you’ll want for a leadoff man. He’s struck out 10 times and walked just twice.
All this great hitting has helped cover up deficiencies from the rotation, which has a 5.14 ERA.
Yovani Gallardo’s start on Saturday night was decent, but he gave up two runs in the seventh. Gallardo hasn’t gotten an out in the seventh in his last 20 starts, and manager Buck Showalter, chafing at the number of truncated outings from the rotation, felt he needed to force a starter to get some outs in the seventh.
Only one starter, Ubaldo Jimenez has completed seven, and two more, Gallardo and Vance Worley have finished six.
In order to be successful, the Orioles starters are probably going to have to average at least six innings.
For the most part, the bullpen has been tremendous. Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy, Darren O’Day and Tyler Wilson have combined to allow two earned runs in 27 innings for a sparkling 0.67 ERA.
Only Mychal Givens and T.J. McFarland, who both faltered in Saturday night’s game, have disappointed.
Givens, who was spectacular late last year, hasn’t been nearly as good this season. He’s given up nine hits in 5 2/3. While he’s struck out 13 batters, more than anyone on the staff but Ubaldo Jimenez, Givens has been allowing far too many runners on base.
If that trend continues, Givens, who along with Wilson are the only relievers with options, may make his first visit to Norfolk.
The infield defense has been superlative. Wonderful plays, both the jaw dropping and the heady ones, have highlighted the first two weeks.
Trumbo, who has committed two errors in nine games, has been a concern, but with his power numbers, his outfield play may be overlooked.
One of the most interesting trends has been Showalter’s use of Hyun Soo Kim. Showalter has been looking for places to spot him, and in eight plate appearances, he’s gotten on base five times.
Most impressive was a pinch hit on Thursday night in a game the Orioles trailed. Surely, Kim — who was known as a most durable player in South Korea — didn’t get many pinch hitting opportunities there, and has adapted to his new role.
Last year, it seemed the Orioles often wilted in late innings against superior bullpens, and in their three losses, that seems to be the case this year, too.
In those losses, they haven’t scored against opponents’ relievers in 10 2/3, managing just four hits and two walks. They’ve struck out 12 times.
A challenging stretch awaits. Defending AL East champs Toronto arrives for three games beginning Tuesday night, and the Orioles have a six-game road trip in Kansas City and Tampa Bay.
In 2015, the Orioles lost 15 of 26 to the Blue Jays and Royals and won 10 of 19 against the Rays.