After Friday night’s game, the Orioles season will be two-thirds complete. Here are a few conclusions to draw from what we’ve seen.
1) Starting pitching is not what it was in 2014
A year ago, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris and Chris Tillman combined to win 44 games. The Orioles top three starters won’t come close to that this season.
At this point of the season in 2014, Chen was 11-3, Norris 8-7 and Tillman 7-5. They won 18 games in the final two months.
This year, Tillman (8-7), Miguel Gonzalez (9-8) and Ubaldo Jimenez (8-7) have already combined for 25 wins. Before he missed a turn with a sprained ankle, Tillman was on a serious roll, but Gonzalez and Jimenez have had issues in the second half.
It’s not impossible to make the postseason without multiple starters with double-digit wins. In 2012, Chen (12-11) was the team’s only starting pitcher who won at least 10 games, and still the Orioles won 93 and qualified for the postseason.
2) Chris Davis is back
After a bizarre 2014 (26 home runs, 72 RBIs, .196), Davis will easily exceed those numbers this season. In what is likely to be his final season with the Orioles, Davis has been putting on an extraordinary power display in his last 15 games. He has nine home runs and 23 RBIs.
Davis could become the only player in team history to have multiple 40 home run seasons.
In just over four years in Baltimore, Davis has 142 home runs, trailing Melvin Mora by 16 for 10th on the team’s all-time home run list.
Power is in short supply these days, and Davis could be setting himself up for an enormous payday.
3) Half a Wieters is better than none
When Buck Showalter announced that Matt Wieters would be activated two months ago, he said that having Wieters half the time would be better than not having him at all.
In those two months, the Orioles are 17-12 when Wieters catches, and the Orioles are 31-23.
Tillman has always felt better with Wieters catching him, though his wonderful one-hit game against Detroit came with Caleb Joseph behind the plate.
And, Wieters has provided some offensive help, too. He’s batting .264 with four home runs and 15 RBIs.
Wieters has caught on consecutive days only once, though Showalter has DH’d him five times and played him at first base another game to keep his bat in the lineup.
His return seems to have helped Caleb Joseph, too. Joseph’s batting average has ticked up from .243 to .253, and in his last 11 games, Joseph has four home runs and 13 RBIs. The Orioles almost always win when Joseph has an RBI.
Should Wieters leave as a free agent after the season, Joseph has presented himself as a credible successor.
4) J.J. Hardy’s contract was a wise investment
It’s hard to say if Hardy is playing the best defense of his career, but as Buck Showalter says, Hardy’s style is rubbing off on Jonathan Schoop.
Hardy is in the midst of his longest streak without an error (72 games). He’s made only one in the three months since he returned from a shoulder injury.
Schoop has made just one error in the month he’s been back from a right knee injury.
And, Manny Machado is playing brilliantly, too. While he’s committed 12 errors, half of them occurred while Hardy was out, and none have come in the last month.
We may well never see the offensive shortstop who hit 77 home runs in his first three years here, but in the two months since Wieters returned and added another potent bat to the lineup, Hardy’s average has moved up from .193 to .243.
5) The bullpen is nearly as good as last year’s
At this time last year, the Orioles had just added Andrew Miller to a strong bullpen and none of their key pieces had an ERA over four.
This year, Zach Britton (2-0, 1.62 with 27 saves in 28 chances), Darren O’Day (5-1, 1.31) have better numbers than a year ago.
So does Brad Brach, who may inherit O’Day’s role in 2016 if he leaves in 2016.
In his two seasons with the Orioles, Brach is 11-3.
This year, Brach is averaging fewer than seven hits per nine innings and well over a strikeout an inning.
Brach, Brian Matusz and Chaz Roe all have ERAs under three.
In three appearances, Mychal Givens has allowed just one hit in four innings, and he may be used in more crucial situations.
Jason Garcia, whose rehab assignment is over, may be added to the roster shortly, and if he returns, the Orioles will have to drop a player. Givens and T.J. McFarland are the only relievers with options.
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