After yet another blowout loss last night the Orioles are in sole possession of last place in the AL East at 7-9. They've allowed the second most runs per game in baseball at 5.25, behind only the 3-13 Brewers (5.69). These aren't good times so far in Baltimore, but there are plenty of reasons to think that the Birds can work their way out of this funk. Here are ten to get you started:
1) The defense isn't as bad as it looks.
The O's have had a knack for making highly visible and ugly errors so far, but as a whole the team defense actually hasn't been all that bad. The range is still there, and despite being near the top of MLB with ten team errors, Fangraphs has the O's second in baseball with 9 defensive runs saved (DRS). I wouldn't put too much stock into one stat, but this mainly goes to show that the same principles are in play here that made Mark Reynolds look to some like an excellent first baseman in 2012. Plays that are made (or not made) because of range are not always obvious, while a booted ground ball is something you're definitely going to notice. Reynolds' range was terrible at first, but he made all the plays he was able to get to, so he looked pretty good. Right now the Orioles are doing the exact opposite - they've been getting to a ton of balls, but since they've booted a few, they look pretty bad. The inopportune errors won't continue at this pace, and the return of J.J. Hardy should help as well.
2) The offense is taking more walks.
Standard "small sample size" alert applies here, but the Orioles' walk rate of 7.8% puts them right around the middle of the pack, a significant improvement from 6.5% last year (27th in baseball). This has happened despite the fact that the patient Nick Markakis has been replaced at the top of the lineup by Everth Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza, who have four walks between them. If the rest of the lineup, especially Adam Jones, can keep this up, it should help the O's manufacture runs.
3) Chris Tillman is no stranger to early-season struggles
Last year a disastrous stretch of starts at the end of April and beginning of May had Tillman looking like someone who may even need to go to the minors for a tune-up, but a 2.33 ERA in the second half of the season erased the doubts about who the Orioles' ace is. For whatever reason, this seems to be what Tilly does (he had a 4.73 ERA in April 2013 as well), so a bounce-back for him is likely.
4) Whatever happens with Bud Norris' rotation spot, it can't possibly be this bad
Bud Norris has a 17.42 ERA on a .421 BABIP. If Bud stays in the rotation the whole season, he won't end up with an ERA around eighteen. If Kevin Gausman replaces Norris, Gausman won't either. If Bud was replaced in the rotation by Kevin Gregg or Mike Gonzalez, neither of them would finish with a 17+ ERA. That's all there really is to say about this one - there's nowhere to go but up.
5) Manny Machado is starting to hit
After batting .132 through the first eight games, Machado has picked up the pace and raised his average up to .218 thanks to multi-hit games in three of his past five starts. Last night, his two bombs nearly help the O's mount a big-time comeback. Manny was one of the best players on the planet in 2013, and if he starts to heat up and smack extra-base hits like he did that year, it's huge for the Oriole lineup.
6) Steve Pearce's drop-off may be exaggerated
No one expected Pearce to duplicate his .930 OPS from last year, but his atrocious .149/.231/.277 batting line to start the season has already led to plenty of "flash in the pan" grumbling. While he clearly hasn't been swinging the bat well, he's also batted only .156 on balls in play. Adding, say, three singles and a double to his line (which would put his BABIP around .300, just slightly above league average) would make that batting line .234/.307/.382. That's definitely not good, but nothing that would be cause for concern after only two weeks of baseball. Remember, Pearce hit the ball well in 2013 too, so last season didn't completely come out of nowhere.
7) The catchers will probably start throwing people out at some point
The O's, primarily Caleb Joseph, have caught only two baserunners so far this year and allowed 10 successful steals. That's out of character for Joseph, who caught an excellent 23 of 57 runners last season. Matt Wieters will be back at some point, and he's been in the top half of the league in CS% for most of his career. While Wieters' ability to throw runners out may be affected by his injury, there's no reason to think Joseph is suddenly a lot worse at this. The lack of success so far is probably just due to a small sample size and good jumps by the baserunners.
8) Jason Garcia will either improve, or he won't
Either way, the bullpen will be better off. As it stands right now, Garcia's presence basically means the O's are down an arm in the bullpen when they're playing close games. Buck is only using him in low leverage situations, and so far he hasn't done well in those. If Garcia does get better, he will provide the Orioles with another reliever that's actually usable in a tight game, which should take some stress and innings away from the rest of the 'pen. Showalter has already said you can't hide a guy on the 25-man roster for a whole season, so if Garcia continues to pitch poorly he may find himself back in Boston's minor league system. This would allow the O's to call up someone like T.J. McFarland, which would also improve the club.
9) The O's may really have something in Brad Brach
Brach came on strong towards the end of last summer, and became a reliable member of the bullpen by the end of the season. This year, he struggled out of the gate, allowing some runs in his early appearances. Since then he has dropped his ERA to 4.09, but he's really been pitching better than that. I'm not a huge fan of FIP, but when a pitcher has a 1.60 FIP versus a 4.09 ERA it's pretty clear that he's been unlucky. Brach has struck out 14 batters in eleven innings so far, and if he continues to pitch this way it would help the Orioles at least partially cope with the loss of Andrew Miller and the struggles of Tommy Hunter.
10) Remember Matt Wieters and J.J. Hardy?
Those two guys who are both among the best in the league at their positions? They're still on the Orioles. No offense to Caleb Joseph, Everth Cabrera, or Ryan Flaherty, but this team is obviously better with Hardy and Wieters playing, and soon enough they'll be playing.
Certainly, there are also some reasons for pessimism about the 2015 Orioles. But we're not going to talk about those today, because it's Friday, and everyone is supposed to be in a good mood on Friday. The 2014 Orioles started off just as poorly as this year's club, and we all know how that went. Hopefully the turnaround starts tonight against Boston. Even if it doesn't, it's far too early to hit the panic button on the 2015 season, and there are plenty of reasons to think the Birds can turn it around.