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Camden Chat roundtable: Thoughts on the Orioles' first half

No one likes Brian Matusz. Everyone wishes the Orioles would stop messing with Kevin Gausman.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles played their 81st game on Sunday night, ending the half-season at 42-39, 1.5 games out in both the AL East and Wild Card races.  When that game was in the books, I polled some of the esteemed authors here on Camden Chat about the first half of the season.  Participants include yours truly, Stacey Folkemer, Bill Duck, Ryan Pollack and Tyler Young.  With no further ado, let's see how the Orioles fare in Camden Chat's team assessment.

Did the Orioles do better than you expected, worse than you expected, or about as you thought they would in the first 81 games?

Stacey: Before the season started I felt like this was about a .500 team that could go further if a lot of things fell into place. So 42-39 feels about right on paper, although I'm finding that watching a .500 ball club is a lot less fun than I thought it would be if you asked me back in 2011.

Duck: About what I expected as far as record, but I expected it to be more of a manic-depressive season, with longer losing and winning streaks. They've been almost boring in their mediocrity. Win 3, lose 2, win 1, lose 1, win 2, lose 1...

Ryan: They're doing better than I expected, given the loss of Wieters, the struggles of Chris Davis, Tillman's sudden inability to strike anyone out, Jimenez's terrible walk rate, and Tommy Hunter's failure as a closer. I think given these negative developments, the fact that the team is still over .500 should be celebrated.

Steve: To be honest, I expected a little better.  The team has been obnoxiously inconsistent, and unable to get on a real roll.  On any given night, I never know whether the offense, defense, starters or bullpen will blow me away or let me down, but I don't trust any of them to steady the ship for weeks on end, unlike 2012's bullpen or 2013's defense.

Tyler: They have been slightly worse than expected.

Who's been the best pleasant surprise on the team so far, other than Nelson Cruz?

Tyler: Bud Norris.

Stacey: Gotta be Steve Pearce! He has come back to earth a little now that he's in the lineup every single day, but he's still the guy that I want to see at the plate. It's so weird. Honorable mention goes to Delmon Young, which is so bizarre to even say. But he's been great off the bench and hasn't drawn any attention to himself other than when he's in the batter's box.

Duck: Gee, other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? I'd take Zach Britton's rather seamless integration into the closer's role. It's a situation that could have been a revolving circus of sadness and anger and for the most part, it's been drama-free once ZB made the role his.

Ryan: ​Zach Britton. Holy crap can that guy fool batters. He is the definition of "addition by subtraction" ... by taking out his changeup and fourseamer, he is getting the most out of his sinker and curveball.

Steve: As a self-proclaimed honorary member of Team Steve, how can I not go with Steve Pearce?  How often are you going to get this kind of contribution from a journeyman, replacement-level outfielder?  And who cares if it's fueled by a crazy BABIP?  #TeamSteve

Who has let you down the most in the first half?

Steve: It's easy (and reasonable) to single out Chris Davis or Manny Machado here, but I've gotta go with Tommy Hunter.  When the Orioles failed to sign a seasoned closer, I knew that Tommy Hunter wasn't the guy to pitch to lefties in the ninth inning, but I didn't think he'd be this bad.  He's started to get it together the last few weeks, but it's been a rough first half.

Tyler: Manny Machado.

Stacey: I suspect everyone will answer either Chris Davis or Manny Machado, but I'll go with Davis. I feel like Machado has more of an excuse (coming off of injury, still very young, etc.), but Davis has just really been a disappointment. When he was traded to the Orioles he seemed to me like a guy who could crush mistake pitches but not super valuable beyond that. Then in 2012 and 2013 he really seemed like he moved past that, and now he's right back to being able to be pitched to. I know his oblique is still bothering him, so my fingers are crossed that's the source of his troubles.

Duck: J.J. Hardy. We need those 20+ HRs a season, and his defense has suffered as well. Manny Machado gets a pass to a degree because he had no Spring Training due to injury. JJ has no such excuse.

Ryan: ​Chris Tillman. His strikeout walk rate had been trending positive for the past two years. There was a reason to think his ERA would regress, based on his low BABIP-against in 2012 and his high strand rate in 2013, but there was nothing to suggest he'd suddenly stop striking batters out. And yet that's what's happened. Sigh.

You're the Orioles GM for a day, and you can make up to two roster moves to gear up for the second half -- who do you cut, promote or trade?

Ryan: ​I'm not good at playing armchair GM, but I hear the cool kids say that Steve Clevenger should be platooning at catcher. That sounds reasonable. Other than that -- Kevin Gausman needs to be on the major-league club, pronto. Having him in long relief is fine. Having him replace Miguel Gonzalez in the rotation would also work.

Steve: First off, it's time to be done with Brian Matusz.  I don't really care where he goes, or whether we get another LOOGY, but he's just not working.  Maybe someone will trade a B-grade prospect to take a flyer on rebuilding him as a starter.  Second, I'd love to see the Orioles make a play for Ben Zobrist.  He's expensive, and it's hard to trade inside your division, but he has so many skills this team lacks (working a count, for example), at a position where they're weak right now.  I don't know who it would take to land Zobrist, but as far as I'm concerned, if it's not Bundy, Gausman or Harvey, it's on the table.

Tyler: As a team in contention, it is tough to tab a player to trade away or cut but here are the two moves:

First, Miguel Gonzalez has been a weak link. Package him with a prospect like Eduardo Rodriguez for a big time pitcher. They should have their eyes on someone like a Cole Hamels. He would be expensive, may take more than just Rodriguez and Gonzalez, but would be a real top of the rotation guy.

Second, as great as Steve Pearce has been, can he sustain it? The Orioles could really capitalize on the season he has had and use him as trade bait, perhaps in exchange for a catcher or second baseman, if the Schoop/Flaherty platoon just doesn't get it going. Unless Pearce proves he can play catcher or second. I wouldn't put it past him.

Stacey: I don't think any big moves should be made. This team is too good to blow up, but not good enough to sell the farm for that last big piece. So I'd cut/trade Brian Matusz. He has been a dark spot in a bullpen that has generally done well, and he's hurting the team. The second thing I would do is give Kevin Gausman a rotation spot and stick with it. Every five days, let him go out there and do his thing. I do think that would improve the team, and even if it doesn't it will at least give us a look at what he's capable of. Once Bud Norris gets back from the DL, just slide Miguel Gonzalez into the recently made available bullpen spot.

Duck: I'm gonna get KILLED for this, but I'd find out what it would take to get Matt Kemp. Hear me out! The Dodgers are four deep in OF, (really, it's five deep with the prospect they want to bring up but have no room for in Joc Pederson). Yes, he's owed basically $20M a year through 2019. So, that's $100M left on his deal after this year. Get LA to pay $50M of it and give them a good prospect (basically, pick from anyone not named Bundy or Harvey or Gausman). They're desperate to get rid of at least some of that contract, but Kemp's OPS+ is still 122 for the year. It's been under 110 just twice since 2006, and even then it was above 100. Maybe, just maybe, there's a deal to be made. This team needs offense. Kemp provides it. It's not a clean lineup fit, but we're not gonna find offense at catcher or second base in the trade market, so you get it where you can. See ya, Delmon Young. Buck will figure out some way to get Kemp his at-bats. Nelson Cruz and his $8M salary are off the book next year, and there's no guarantee Chris Davis stays. If the Dodgers really do pick up half his salary, Matt Kemp becomes a useful piece to this lineup.

Second move is easy - promote Kevin Gausman to the starting rotation and leave him there, no matter what. If that means Miguel Gonzalez becomes a reliever, so be it. We've seen MiGo's ceiling - it's a #3 starter at best. We've seen glimpses of Gausman's ceiling - it's potentially #1 starter. MiGo to the 'pen, whomever this week's Norfolk call-up is goes back down, and Gausman to the rotation. Make it so.

What is the one team skill or statistic that the Orioles need to focus on improving the most for the second half?

Duck: Bunting! OK, really, it's taking walks. We're 13th in the American League. Base runners are needed to score runs. Let's get on that, shall we?

Ryan: If the starting rotation could stop walking guys, that would go a long way towards improving both the team and my blood pressure.

Steve: The starting pitchers getting deeper into games would be a big deal, because the bridge from starters to O'Day and Britton isn't a bridge I'd willingly walk over multiple times per week.  Every time I witness another five and dive, I die a little bit on the inside.  Especially when the starter didn't actually give up that many runs.  Just go to fewer three-ball counts or walk fewer people, guys.

Tyler: Walks allowed by the pitching staff.

Stacey: I have no idea how a team would fix something like this, but they really need to start hitting at home. It's totally perplexing. They are hitting .253/.306/.390 at home. Collectively at home they are hitting worse than 2010 Felix Pie.

The Orioles finished Game 81 at 1.5 games out of both the East and the Wild Card.  Will they sneak into the playoffs?

Stacey: I'm terrible at making predictions, but I don't feel like the Orioles are playing well enough to make the playoffs. I also don't feel like any other team in the A.L. East is playing well enough to make the playoffs, so perhaps the Orioles will end up there anyway. Is this what it's like to root for a team in the A.L. Central?

Duck: Sadly, no. Slightly above .500 teams don't win the AL East and almost never make the AL Wild Card.  The '96 O's, at 88-74, have the worst full-season record for a Wild Card team. Every other Wild Card team in the AL since 1997 has had at least 90 wins. All but two teams had at least 92 wins.

The 2014 Orioles are not a 90 win team and certainly not a 92 win team. No playoffs.

Ryan: ​I don't think so, at least not when glancing at run differentials. The Blue Jays are playing better baseball. The Angels and the Mariners (!) seem more likely to take the Wild Card spots. There's also Kansas City​ in the mix for a wild card spot. None of these teams are getting lucky so there's no reason to assume they will fade. Finally there's the Yankees, who are getting lucky, meaning they are still a threat.

Steve: If I say no, will they make it?  Is that how this thing I have going works?

Tyler: I believe they will make it in as a wild card.

There you have it, dear readers.  Which author do you agree with?  Which question did no one answer to your liking?