The Orioles open the season’s second half in Detroit on Friday night. To paraphrase Buck Showalter, if they want to play more, they’ll have to play better.
What are five things they’ll need to do to play in the postseason?
1) Hit with runners in scoring position
According to Elias, the Orioles are last in the major leagues this month with runners in scoring position. They’re just 5-for-70 (.071). The next worst team, San Diego is batting .145.
Until this month, the Orioles were doing quite well at it. Part of the problem is that some of their key hitters just aren’t hitting let alone with runners on base.
So far, J.J. Hardy is batting just .125, Chris Davis .211, Adam Jones .222 and Manny Machado .231.
All of them are better hitters than that, and they’re likely to hit more robustly in the second half.
2) Get deeper starts
No Oriole has thrown a complete game, and no starter has even appeared in the ninth inning.
With Zach Britton pitching so brilliantly, there’s no need to risk a starter for the sake of a complete game, but more starts that last at least seven innings would be a help.
Only Wei-Yin Chen has consistently pitched well into games. Nine of Chen’s 17 starts have lasted seven or more, and he has four eight-inning starts. In one of them, on July 1 against Texas, he could have easily pitched the ninth because he had thrown 87 pitches, but Showalter decided to conserve him.
Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Tillman have also started 17 times. Jimenez has seven seven-inning starts (one of them lasted eight), but Tillman has only gone seven three times.
Five of Miguel Gonzalez’s first 10 starts went seven innings, but none of his last six have. Four have been five innings or less.
Mike Wright has two, and Bud Norris one, giving the Orioles 27 seven-inning starts in 88 games. That must improve.
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3) Get consistent production from corner outfielders
Steve Pearce and Travis Snider have both been disappointing though Snider’s 325 on-base percentage is fourth on the club behind only Manny Machado, Jimmy Paredes and Adam Jones.
Snider essentially replaced Nick Markakis in right field, and believe it or not has more home runs (3 to 0) and a higher WAR (1.4 to 1.1) than Markakis.
Realistically, Snider’s production has been wanting. He went 41 games without a home run and 20 without an RBI.
The recent move of Davis from first to right has beefed up production there, but has cost the team offensively at first as Chris Parmelee has cooled off from his hot start.
4) Hope that Zach Britton and Darren O’Day stay strong
Britton and O’Day were justly rewarded with All-Star Game invitations.
In May 2014, Britton was moved into the closer’s role and converted 33 of 37 opportunities.
This year, he’s been even better with 23 saves in 24 chances, and his only blown save ended in a win.
At 32, O’Day is having a marvelous season. He’s 5-0 with a 1.07 ERA and has allowed barely five hits per nine innings, and for a pitcher who’s not considered a strikeout guy, has fanned 12 per nine innings. His strikeout/walk ratio is a phenomenal 5.63.
It would be hard to believe that both could replicate the first 88 games in the final 76, but the Orioles need them to.
5) Concentrate on 2015, but don’t forget about 2016
That doesn’t mean trading away top-level prospects for a player who might help. It means riding with the seven free agents unless the team heads south the next two weeks.
Chen, Davis, Norris, O’Day, Pearce, Tommy Hunter and Matt Wieters are all free agents, and there’s a chance none will return in 2016.
Try and get the most out of them and hope they can help the team play beyond Oct. 4. After that, Chen, Davis and Wieters will probably get qualifying offers, reject them and once they sign elsewhere, the Orioles will get three good draft choices.
If the Orioles are still around .500 in two weeks, that doesn’t eliminate them. They’re not likely to get a great package for two months of Chen, Davis and Wieters.
Pearce hasn’t had a good season, and it’s possible he won’t a situation more attractive.
O’Day has done the most to improve his market value this season, and at first looked to be the one most likely to stay. But, would the Orioles offer him a three-year deal? He’s likely to get one elsewhere, even at 33.
He has a 22-6 record with a 1.91 ERA in four seasons with the Orioles. O’Day fits in brilliantly with this team, and the moment the 2015 season ends, they must make sure he’s back for 2016 and beyond.