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For the Orioles to reach the playoffs, “low” strikeout totals are key

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As it turns out, the Orioles aren’t setting records for most strikeouts recorded by a Major League offense. In fact, the offense is proving its pre-season skeptics wrong.

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 season has been a strange one. The Orioles entered with a giant question mark attached to their name, and with just a little more than a month to play, the level of unknown is still surprisingly evident.

Before the season, the majority of the critics spotlighted on one particular potential issue that might’ve doomed the Orioles 2016 season — strikeouts. Not the starting pitching’s inability to miss bats, rather the lineup racking up potentially obscene, record-breaking, numbers in the K category.

But as the season has rolled along, the issue hasn’t been within the swing-and-miss department.

In fact, one could argue that a primary reason that the Orioles could make the playoffs as a legitimate threat surrounds their surprisingly stable, semi-low-ish strikeout rates. It hasn’t felt this way at times, but this team has been steadily quieting critics in the strikeout department.

As of late, the Orioles have been hovering around the 9th-12th mark in the league for most offensive strikeouts. And while that number is statistically in the lower-half of the MLB, it’s safe to say these numbers are encouraging when you compare them to preseason expectations.

To move forward and be a true candidate to take the division, it’s important for this number to stay consistent. These guys will strike out. They’ll do it quite a bit. But to win games down the stretch, they just have to stay steady and not be completely dreadful.

The duo that hasn’t helped

For starters, it’s important to understand that the team’s two biggest strikeout culprits, Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis, have done absolutely nothing to help keep things in check.

Nothing. They’ve done not a thing to assist in keeping these totals from skyrocketing. In fact, they’ve whiffed more-so than what their recent past statistics have averaged.

Here’s a look at their strikeout rates (K/PA) since 2014:

Chris Davis: 32.9% (2014), 31.0% (2015), 33.3% (2016)

Mark Trumbo: 24.5% (2014), 24.2% (2015), 26.2% (2016)

For Davis, he’s on pace to have his worst strikeout rate as an Oriole since he started full-time with the team back in 2012. In Trumbo’s case, the ratio isn’t actually terribly disappointing for a player of his overall makeup. He is, however, second on the strikeout leaderboard.

Overall, these numbers simply serve to show that the team’s lower-than-expected strikeout totals haven’t been helped by the two biggest perceived culprits of the swing-and-miss.

Helping the cause

However, when you dive into the numbers and examine the basic reasoning behind why the Orioles aren’t the MLB’s strikeout king, some very interesting numbers arise within the totals of the quiet pieces of the lineup that truly round out the daily one though nine.

Here are just a few of those examples...

  • Pedro Alvarez is has a K rate of 25.2 percent. If that number holds up, it’ll be the lowest of his career.
  • J.J. Hardy is striking out just 14.9 percent of the time. Last year it was 20.1%; in 2014 it was 18.2%.
  • Jonathan Schoop has a 20.3 strikeout percentage, far bettering his 25.3% in 2014 and 24.6% in 2015.
  • Matt Wieters is striking out just 19.2 percent of the time. Last year, the number was 23.7%.

When you combine those progressions with the fact that Adam Jones and Manny Machado are staying consistent with their strikeout rates at the dish, it isn’t difficult to understand why the O’s are outside of the top-10 in offensive strikeout leaders.

Add in the contact-friendly Hyun-Soo Kim to the lineup and the numbers improve even more.

How it all adds up

It’s August 24th. At this point, these numbers reflect trends, not mere aberrations. By all means, despite the deafening offseason concern regarding the record-setting strikeout potential, the Birds have impressively working productive at-bats at the plate.

They haven't significantly lessened their overall team strikeout rate, but the number hasn't ballooned.

And if numbers hold true for the final month of the season, that’s very good news for an offense that was riddled with question marks back in March and April.

Of course, pitching must improve to get the Orioles to the finish line.

You won’t find any fan or analyst disputing that point — and at the end of the day, it’s very possible that the 2016 version of the Baltimore Orioles simply doesn’t have the man-power to pitch their way into the playoffs.

But the good news is that the offense is doing their job.

If they keep it up, a chance to win the AL East still isn't too far-fetched.