The Orioles season is already a little over halfway done, with the Birds sitting pretty atop the AL East with a 51-36 record. And as the team takes a much-needed break from the daily grind, our staff has had time to discuss the team and the projected second-half outlook.
Camden Chat writers got together to work on a collective roundtable, answering three pressing questions as the O’s emerge from the break.
Will the Birds make the postseason? That and more with several members of the site’s writing staff below.
What has surprised you most about the 2016 Orioles team?
Mark Brown: I am surprised that they're hitting as many home runs as advertised - maybe even more than that.
So much of the season's hopes were pinned on the offense being able to do great things and I didn't believe that would happen because of some reflexive belief that Orioles fans aren't allowed to have nice things. I still believe that, really. But the Orioles have 137 home runs too, and that's great.
Ryan Pollack: The dumpster fire that is Ubaldo Jimenez.
I thought he'd turned it around last year, or at least slowed the bleeding, by finding a more consistent release point. Well maybe he did, but he promptly lost it. This year he's still getting ground balls, but his strikeout and walk rates both went in the wrong directions, and to boot he is having awful luck with runners on base, stranding only 61% of them. Whoops.
Joe Wedra: I think the most surprising part of the winning ways early this season has been the consistency of Mark Trumbo. I figured he’d be Chris Davis 2.0, hitting his fair share of baseballs over the wall but hovering around .240 in the average department. If he continues this pace, he might be the leading vote-getter in the state of Maryland for November’s election.
Tyler Young: Jonathan Schoop. I knew he was a strong and talented guy that would hit a lot of bombs, especially for a second baseman, but I never envisioned him as a .300 hitter with an outside chance at 30 home runs and 100 RBI in a season.
He gets sort of buried on this team, but his bat adds extreme depth to the Birds offense. Having to face him as the sixth or seventh hitter in a lineup after already dealing with the likes of Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo must be a nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Stacey Folkemer: It has to be the starting rotation. We all knew coming in that it was the wild card, but the sheer amount of misery it has resulted in is more than I could have expected. It's like Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman, and a dumpster fire. And Gausman hasn't even been that good. Even more surprising is that the team is somehow in first place with a rotation like that.
Bill Duck: Jonathan Schoop's hitting. I don't have the stats to show if he's swinging less out of the zone, but whatever he's doing, he's vastly more successful than he's ever been before. Here's hoping it lasts.
Nick Cicere: I guess when you're picked to win 69 games by some folks, you need a few surprises to outpace those kind of projections. Time and time again, I find myself watching Jonathan Schoop and thinking, "Is this actually him?".
He still chases a TON of pitches, but he's improved immensely within the strike zone, and is probably going to hit 25-30 home runs while playing well above-average second base. The guy is hitting .304/.338/.509, with the leading two slashes seeming near impossible only a year ago.
I don't think he hovers over .300 come the end of September, but there's been plenty of evidence to suggest he continues to hit like a a new man.
Chris Booze: There really haven't been too many surprises for me thus far. The team has basically just been a slightly more successful version of what I expected - power hitting, a great bullpen, and terrible starting pitching. If I had to pick one, I'd probably say Hyun Soo Kim.
I liked the signing at the time, but after the spring he had it was hard to expect him to be much of a contributor. Instead, he's been terrific at the plate and competent in the field, which has allowed the team to move Joey Rickard back to the fourth outfielder spot he probably should've occupied all along.
What should the Orioles do about the starting rotation?
Mark: Short of inventing a time machine and going back to re-do the offseason, I don't think the starting rotation can be fixed. Duquette's repeated comments about "15 teams are looking for starting pitching" tell us all we need to know there - no matter how desperate their need, the O's just don't have the pieces to make a meaningful trade with that many buyers out there.
I'd rather see them do nothing than pull off the 2016 version of last year's Gerardo Parra trade, giving up a useful prospect for someone who's obviously going to come here and stink.
Ryan: In many years, I'd say nothing. People forget that the Kansas City Royals' rotation last year was 22nd in ERA and 28th in xFIP. And that worked out okay. Sure the Royals got Johnny Cueto at the deadline, but he pitched poorly for them. The Orioles have a similar formula this year - bad starting pitching that's hard to watch, but the excellent bullpen and strong offense (with some okay defense) compensate for that.
But this year is different. The team is clearly all-in on the short term, struggling to get value out of Adam Jones, running Manny Machado out there for only two guaranteed more years, and seeing 2014 Nelson Cruz re-sign the team in the form of Mark Trumbo. There's no one in the farm system so untouchable that trading them for pitching help would devastate the team. So because the window is now, the team should trade from what remains of this system for some major league rotation help.
That includes Bundy and Harvey. The Orioles as an organization have shown no talent for developing pitchers; if anything, they've shown the opposite, a curious knack for destroying young hurlers. They have not developed a front-line starter since Erik Bedard nearly a decade ago. Better to admit the structural weakness and sell relatively high on Bundy, Harvey, and maybe Chris Lee in order to win now.
Joe: At this point, it probably makes the most sense to stick with the currently available starting pitching. There’s no sense in giving up talent in an extraordinarily-thin farm system, especially for a pitcher not proven to give a consistently reliable start every five days. Unless the perfect opportunity were to strike, I’d stay put and ride with what’s worked.
Tyler: Obviously, I'm sticking with Chris Tillman, Kevin Gausman and Yovani Gallardo as my first three guys. I have seen enough of Ubaldo Jimenez. I cut bait and eat the contract.
For the fourth starter I am handcuffing Tyler Wilson and Dylan Bundy together and starting one or the other every fifth day, letting them go three or four innings and then bringing in the other when the starter is getting near the end of the second time through the order. Onto the fifth guy...
There is little about this year's trade market for starters that excites me. Even if the O's are willing to go "all in" they probably still don't have enough to get someone like Sonny Gray, Julio Teheran or even Drew Pomeranz compared to what other teams can offer.
Rich Hill is my preferred option. He is left-handed, older and on a one-year contract so should cost a bit less than the previously mentioned trio. Offer a package of Trey Mancini and Tanner Scott to see what the Athletics say. Swap out Mancini for Sisco to sweeten the pot if they can't budge. Add lower level prospects from there to see if there is a match.
Stacey: Honestly I'd just stand pat. I know that seems weird after what I just wrote above, but there are just so few prospects that are worth anything in the farm system. Where do you even begin?
The pitchers the Orioles could trade for with the prospects they have won't make that big of a difference, and it's just one less guy who might contribute next year. I think you gotta just keep your fingers crossed that the offense can keep the rotation afloat.
Bill: You can live with three starters in the playoffs with the amount of days off. It can be done for three weeks. So, assuming I can just continue to rotate long relief options from Norfolk as needed for the regular season, I'm not sure I do anything.
The available arms that would actually help are way too expensive for what they will cost in prospects going back. Tillman, Gausman and a hopefully ready Bundy, and let's go to war in the playoffs with the bullpen. As Billy Beane says, the playoffs are a crapshoot anyway.
Nick: Boy is the starting situation a doozy. Obviously Chris Tillman has been the metaphorical thumb on the hand of the Orioles starters, whereas Kevin Gausman hasn't been nearly as bad as his 4.15 ERA. But given the current climate of average starting help that's out there right now, the Orioles are probably going to have to simply hope for the best the rest of the way.
I don't really see a package of prospects for Rich Hill ever coming close to a reasonable cost for maybe three months of a 37 year-old who could revert back to Rich Hill at any time. Drew Pomeranz is essentially a two-pitch pitcher and I tend to be weary of NL pitchers versus wimpy NL lineups, give or take a few exceptions.
With the GM cap firmly on my head, I tell myself that a healthy Darren O'Day will allow a dominant Brad Brach to extend back into a more dynamic role, which may domino effect into Buck Showalter shortening the leash on his starting staff with fewer consequences. As much as the Orioles want their starters to pitch deeper into games, predominantly featuring a more talented bullpen may be of more benefit down the stretch.
Chris: This is a tough one. There just isn't much the team can do, between the weak farm system and the lack of starting pitching options out there. It's definitely a seller's market, so it's hard to see the O's winning a bidding war for anyone we actually want.
I'm with Tyler, though - the one guy I see who might be gettable and actually worth getting is Rich Hill. I can't believe I'm saying this about Rich F'ing Hill, but there really isn't much in his stats to suggest that his first half this year was a fluke; his peripherals look about as good as his ERA.
At the end of the day, though, he's still a 37-year-old rental. Maybe, just maybe, he could be had for a price that isn't too steep for the Orioles to pay.
Your prediction for the remainder of the Orioles season?
Mark: Before the season, I thought these guys would win 82 games and I was nervous predicting a number even that high, so keep in mind that I don't know anything about anything.
I think Duquette will trade a nice prospect for a mediocre-or-worse starter who doesn't help at all, the O's rotation will continue to stink and they'll still somehow go on to win 88 or 89 games. I'll be glad if they prove me wrong by blowing past my prediction again.
Ryan: It'll be close in the AL East but the Orioles will make the postseason one way or another, even if it's the Wild Card game.
Joe: In a perfect world, the Orioles win close to 100 games and become the favorite in the American League. While that’s not far-fetched, I unfortunately think this year’s team will be a tad short of the triple-digit win mark. I’ll predict roughly 90 wins, losing the AL East by a game or two and forced into a Wild Card slot. From there, it’s anyone’s guess.
Tyler: This still feels like a division-winning team to me. The starting pitching can't get any worse, whereas the bullpen should be even better when Darren O'Day returns, and I see no reason why the home runs won't keep on coming. It may come down to the wire, but I say 94 wins, 1st place in the East and they find their way to the ALCS.
Stacey: Lots of dongs from the lineup and lots of heartbreak from the rotation. I think they'll play over just .500 ball and sneak into the playoffs. After the Red Sox used their fully loaded farm system to trade for two new starting pitchers, the Orioles will have to settle for the Wild Card.
Bill: I keep thinking they're one bad week from losing the division lead, but they just had one bad week and are still two games up. Oh, why not, they somehow manage to hold onto the AL East lead and get to the AL Championship Series.
Nick: The Orioles are weird. Much to do with their success is super unconventional, but I've come to love weird. The Orioles will still hit home runs, but have nights of pure ineptitude. The Orioles will still play solid defense, despite Mark Trumbo and Hyun Soo Kim lumberjacking the corner outfield spots.
The Orioles are probably going to pitch on a general scale of mediocre to terrible, but scatter nights of awesomeness. Whatever it is, it seems to work. I do think the Jays and Red Sox are going to hang around with the O's for the rest of the summer, because good teams usually play good, but the Orioles really don't need to change too much.
Dingers, defense and dilatory pitching relief will see the Orioles to at least 90 wins, and that's all the AL East should take to win.
Chris: I have a feeling the rest of the season will be more of the same. The rotation will struggle, but the offense will score enough runs and the bullpen will perform well enough to get the O's into the playoff picture.
I do think somebody will step into the rotation and be a semi-decent third starter; maybe it'll be Vance Worley, or perhaps Tyler Wilson comes back and pitches like he did at the beginning of the year. Here's a prediction that would make Birdland go nuts if it comes true: the 88-74 Orioles will take on the Red Sox in the wild card game at Fenway.