The Orioles, despite having just shaken off a heartbreaking six-game losing streak, can still cling to a sliver of playoff hope, as the O's are still only two games back in the second Wild Card slot. Buck Showalter's boys have joyed us with the best of times, while forcing some (such as myself) to not even bother watching SportsCenter because we can't stand to see losing highlights.
No matter, the Orioles are 63-63, and there are many reasons as to why the Orioles are and appear to be an average team as we enter September. I've tried to narrow down a few.
1. "53"- Number of games 2B Jonathan Schoop missed while on disabled list
Jonathan Schoop played a crucial role in the Orioles' 96-win season a year ago, adding phenomenal middle infield defense with the occasional pop towards the lower third of the lineup. Looking to build off of his .209/.244/.354 slash in '14, Schoop was entering the this year with a chance to not only continue hitting home runs, but to develop into a more complete hitter. Early signs were promising, as Schoop was hitting .259 with three home runs and a .940 OPS before injuring his knee on April 17 against the Red Sox.
Missing half of April and all of May and June, Schoop returned to the Orioles on July 5, and in typical Johnny fashion, he homered in his first-bat. Upon his lengthy DL stint, Schoop has hit .296/.324/.476 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs. Schoop is slowly but surely turning the corner at the plate, adding more productive contact with a lowered strikeout rate. Unfortunately for the Orioles, Schoop's time rehabbing his knee kept his bat out of the lineup, and for an offense that has sputtered more times than not, his resurgence with the bat would have served very, very well during the early summer months. Plus, we missed out on more bombs like this...
2. "26-38"- The Orioles record on the road to this point of 2015
Good teams can win in any ballpark, and while the Orioles have thundered to a 37-25 record at Camden Yards, the O's have been well below-average away from Baltimore.
As a team, the Orioles have slashed .240/.292/.384 with a run differential of -6, with the only other team in playoff contention that has equally struggled to score runs on the road being the Dodgers. The Orioles road OPS of .677 is 6th-worst in baseball, signified by the league's third-lowest road OBP of .294. The O's success peaks when the Birds are hitting home runs, and though the Orioles are right in the middle of the pack in terms of road dingers, the lack efficiency to get on base has furthered the Orioles' hinderance of scoring runs away from home.
More surprisingly, the Orioles have pitched fairly well on the road, as the team's 4.03 ERA outside the hitter-friendly confines of Camden Yards is 13th-best in baseball. Throw in league averages in K%, BB% and WHIP with an opponent batting average of only .250, the Orioles pitching staff has done enough to keep the offense in games. But that's the thing about sports. It's all about execution, and to this point, the Orioles aren't executing on the road. Excluding today's matchup with the Royals, the O's have the joy of looking forward to 19 more road games of the 36 remaining, including trips to Arlington, Toronto, The Bronx and the nation's capitol. Take that as you will, but the road isn't going to get any easier (pun intended) if the failure to score runs continues.
3. "187"- Orioles total number of doubles in 2015
A year ago, the Birds notched 264 doubles, 17th-most in baseball. Though not a significant narrative in last season's storybook run, the inclusion of the double seemed to have its impact. So far in 2015, the Orioles tally in the doubles department is third-worst among all major league squads. Doubles, though naturally not as impactful as home runs, are not a distant second (I'm crushing the puns). A double not only inherently puts a man in scoring position, but it also moves runners that crucial extra base, forces outfielders to move outside of their comfort zone, and not only does it extend rallies, it creates them as well.
It's not as if the Orioles lack gap-to-gap hitters, as Manny Machado, Adam Jones and Chris Davis, among others, are some of the best in baseball at potentially splitting the outfield.
Without coincidence, six of the top ten teams at hitting the double (Toronto, Kansas City, both New York teams, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and St. Louis) are among the best clubs in today's baseball. The Orioles have enough of a sample to show that hitting doubles isn't well-incorporated into the offense, but perhaps it still potentially will.
Perhaps the prettiest knock in baseball, in my eyes, is someone that sends a line drive on the pull side between the center fielder and one of the corner outfielders, because it means that a hitter recognized the pitch, squared up the baseball and more often than not, hit a line drive as a result. Maybe the shift and further defensive preparation has disallowed a team like the Orioles, who more or less have a one-track approach at the plate, from finding the gap and taking the extra base. But at this juncture of the year, maybe something as simple as a ground ball that sneaks down the line or a liner over the second baseman that rolls to the wall can change the fortune of an inconsistent offense.