Carroll County Times

Orioles: A look back at the first half

BALTIMORE - Five games over .500 at the All-Star break in 2012, the Baltimore Orioles were on their way to a 48-29 record in the second half and a berth into the playoffs.
The unofficial midway point of this season is here, and the Orioles sport a 53-43 mark. Once again they're contending for a postseason berth. And they don't seem to care if anyone thinks a return to the postseason won't happen.
"Anybody can think what they want," said right fielder Nick Markakis. "You've got a lot of people predicting the game that have never even played the game in-between the lines. They have no idea what they're talking about.
"It's a matter of us proving them wrong and doing what we have to, go out there and compete. We've put ourselves in a good position in the first half, and we've got to come out in the second half and do what we need to do to get where we want to get."
Baltimore's regular season resumes Friday in Texas, so amid this four-day break it's time to review and hand out grades for the Orioles.

Starting pitching
Baltimore's collective ERA for starters is 4.79, 13th in the American League. That's the third worst in the AL, and throughout the first half each member of the rotation has experienced struggles. Leading the way is Jason Hammel, the Orioles' Opening Day starter, who is 7-6 with a 5.24 ERA and no wins since May 27.
He's still durable, with six of his last eight starts lasting at least six innings, but he's 0-4 with a 5.59 ERA since that late May win against Washington. Hammel has blamed himself for the Orioles' pitching problems, but he's not alone.
Baltimore has gone to Jake Arrieta (1.2, 7.23) Zach Britton (2-3, 4.76), Freddy Garcia (3-5, 5.77), and Kevin Gausman (1-3, 6.21) to try and shore up the back end of the rotation. Scott Feldman (1-1, 5.79) came over July 2 in a trade that sent Arrieta and Pedro Strop to the Cubs.
There have been bright spots, such as All-Star pick Chris Tillman (11-3, 3.95), Wei-Yin Chen (4-3, 2.82), and Miguel Gonzalez (7-3, 3.48). Chen is recently back from injury and Gonzalez missed time earlier this season with a blister and the birth of his first child.
Grade: C


Relief pitching
Baltimore's bullpen is eighth in the league in terms of ERA (3.68), whereas last year the relief corps was one of the best in the league and one of the big reasons why the Orioles were a playoff team.
Their 17 wins are tied for fourth in the AL, and their 306 innings are fourth alone. But Baltimore tops the league with 36 saves, and Jim Johnson owns 33 of them. The Orioles' closer leads the league in saves, but he's 2-7 with six blown save opportunities.
Baltimore sits in third place in the AL East, and if the season ended today the Orioles would be out of the postseason picture.
"We're not in a bad place," Johnson said, "but we're not in an ideal place."
Grade: B

Baltimore's bats kept the team in contention in the first half, to say the least. The Orioles clubbed 132 home runs to lead the AL, with All-Star first baseman Chris Davis and his 37 homers soaking up the national headlines. They're also first in slugging (.446), second in doubles (191), and third in runs (462), RBIs (445), and OPS (.762).
Third baseman Manny Machado, also an All-Star, has 39 doubles and is chasing the major league record for most in a season. Earl Webb hit 67 doubles in 1931.
Center fielder Adam Jones, another All-Star, is near the top in a handful of AL stat categories for a team that averages 4.8 runs per game.
Grade: A


The Orioles boast a .992 fielding percentage and have made only 30 errors, both of which lead the American League. Machado and shortstop J.J. Hardy, the fifth All-Star, have become a sturdy left side of the infield to go with Davis and first and a rotation of Brian Roberts, Ryan Flaherty, and Alexi Casilla at second.
The outfielders - Jones in center, Markakis in right, and Nate McLouth in left - flash their Gold Glove skills on a nightly basis.
Grade: A

Buck Showalter's record with the Orioles is 249-228 (dating back to Aug. 3, 2010), and it's 34 games over .500 since the start of last year.
Showalter's critics usually cite his over-managing the bullpen, or a lack of rest for catcher Matt Wieters (88 games in the first half). His defenders point to Showalter creating a different attitude on a team mired in 14 consecutive losing seasons.
Pitching has been inconsistent on the whole, and Showalter said he's aware a turnaround could boost the Orioles' chances in the second half.
"I don't care how good you are offensively or defensively, if you're constantly pitching a lot of innings out of your bullpen you're not going to like the results," Showalter said.
Grade: B
Baltimore has 66 games remaining in the regular season, 32 of which are at home. A pennant race should bolster attendance at Camden Yards, and fans will be able to catch meaningful games in August and September for the second year in a row.
Thanks to a solid first half, the Orioles are in position.
"I like that we're playing competitive ball," said Dan Duquette, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations. "We're still in the race. I'd like to see our rotation with the current pitchers healthy pitching their regular turn. Let's see where that takes us."