Talking Orioles with Avi Miller of Baltimore Sports Report

The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Avi Miller, who blogs about the Orioles for Baltimore Sports Report.

MV: We're past the midway point of the 2013 season. What was the Orioles' biggest surprise in the first half?


AM: The obvious choices for this are Chris Davis' mammoth slugging numbers and Manny Machado's rise to stardom, but I'll pick an out-of-the-box example and go with the health of the core of the Orioles lineup. Other than the woes at second base and the inconsistency at designated hitter, the other seven lineup spots have been widely consistent in staying on the field and out of the training room in Sarasota. With 83 games thus far, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, and Manny Machado have started all of them. Nick Markakis has only missed two (for which he was on the bereavement list), Davis has sat out only one, and Matt Wieters has only been given seven games off. Nate McLouth has settled in as the Orioles' everyday left fielder, starting 72 games there and only being sat when the team faces a left-handed starting pitcher.

MV: Are you comfortable with and confident in Jim Johnson as the closer right now, or do you think they should give Tommy Hunter or someone else the ball in the ninth inning?


AM: I am both comfortable and confident with Jim Johnson as a late inning reliever, yes.  I am not, however, a fan of the traditional closer role and the way in which managers rely on a single individual in save situations. The save stat has become so overrated in recent years, and it is very rare to find situations consisting of a closer consistently holding down the ninth-inning role for more than a year or two. There have been multiple scenarios this season during which Tommy Hunter pitched a perfect eighth inning, throwing 15 pitches or less, and would have most likely done a fine job finishing off the ninth inning as well. This just happened on Sunday, in recent memory, where Hunter came in in the eighth to get two outs, which he did on four pitches. In a case like that, there is no reason to warm up Johnson when Hunter is fully capable of closing out the game, as he did on Friday with a two-inning save. But to address your initial question, I believe Johnson needs to simply lock in on his sinker, continue to mix his pitches, and remember not to nibble on the outside half of the plate, or else he leaves himself forcing a pitch over the middle, a spot that has given him much trouble in 2013.

MV: With Ryan Flaherty hitting well and Brian Roberts finally healthy and back in the lineup -- for now -- how should the Orioles handle their second base position?

AM: Ryan Flaherty's bat has certainly heated up recently, hitting .424 with four home runs and nine runs batted in over his last 10 games. This, however, doesn't make up for his .214 career batting average and lack of major league success since the beginning of 2012. Brian Roberts, if healthy, should be the everyday second baseman at this point, and only when needing an off day or a day DHing, should Flaherty or Casilla step in at his position. I'm not one to advocate a bump in playing time due to contractual obligations, but let us not forget the $10 million owed to Brian Roberts this season, and the same $10 million he has made each of the last three years on top of that. He did get that contract for his play as one of baseball's best leadoff men and second basemen at one time.

MV: Do you think it's possible for Chris Davis to continue at this pace or something close to it in the season's second half? Could he be the American League MVP at season's end?

AM: I see no reason why Chris Davis could not keep up with his current pace on offense for the rest of 2013. Perhaps his average regresses closer to his .270 career number, but there is no reason to believe his on-base percentage should slow down given that pitchers are more likely to pitch around him with Matt Wieters, who is hitting .232, behind him in the lineup. Something has obviously clicked for Davis, and his power numbers alone are a sign of that, though his ability to hit for power has always been apparent, even back to his minor league days. His only opportunity to snag the MVP award would be with a slowdown of Miguel Cabrera -- who are we kidding? -- or to heat up even further in the slugging department, the only area in which he is truly outshining Cabrera. Let's not forget Dustin Pedroia as well, the surprising midseason MVP pick by Jon Morosi of FOX Sports.

MV: Care to make any bold predictions for the second half?

AM: I would like to be able to say that the Orioles win the AL East, but that doesn't seem "bold" considering how close they are in running as the season stands today. I would also like to think that Brian Roberts will stay healthy for the rest of the year, but let's be real. I think the Orioles may have their first 20-game winner in Chris Tillman since Mike Boddicker did it in 1984. With an improved cut fastball and ability to throw his curveball for strikes, Tillman has battled his way to a 10-2 record by leaving a career-best 84.3 percent of runners on base and striking out over seven batters per nine innings.

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