The calendar has turned to September, which means it is time for the annual baseball ritual of September call-ups. If they can fit you into the dugout and onto the 40-man roster, they can have you on the major league team. There is no more 25-man roster limit for the rest of the regular season.
In the bad days of the Orioles franchise, September call-ups mostly meant the appearance of some guys who were never going to matter, although if they had a nice month you could tell yourself they might be on the next good Orioles team. As it turned out, no, guys like Bernie Castro and Walter Young were never going to matter.
Now that the Orioles are good, September call-ups mean something different. It is important to be able to plug gaps that may exist on the roster that they aren’t able to fill when they can only carry 25 players.
With the O’s in what’s presently a five or six way battle for the second AL Wild Card spot, they need to grab every little edge that they can. In the last day of August, they were clearly already trying to do so, with the acquisitions of outfielders Drew Stubbs and Michael Bourn looking to give them more late-inning pinch running or defensive replacement options.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox, who sit in the first wild card spot and are looking to get into the AL East lead, have chosen to call up the top prospect in all of baseball, Yoan Moncada. That must be nice to have one of those laying around.
The Orioles obviously don’t have any Moncadas lying around to summon to the big leagues, but will they be able to address any of the problems they’re facing over the last month?
Your answer to that question probably depends on what you see as the problems that the Orioles have to deal with. And whatever problems you think that the Orioles face right now, we can likely all agree that the first wave of September call-ups - Caleb Joseph, Tyler Wilson, and Jayson Aquino, according to David Hall of The Virginian-Pilot - aren’t fixing anything.
What has ailed the Orioles this season falls into three broad categories, two of which were problems even while they were winning and in first place.
Mark Trumbo has hit 40 homers and counting and that’s great, but it doesn’t take too long watching him out there to see that he’s not at his best in the outfield. Hyun Soo Kim is someone who you have to love watching him at the plate. Not so much when you have to watch him chase a ball into the left field corner.
The Orioles also haven’t had a backup center fielder since Joey Rickard was hurt, which has cost them since the hamstring injury to Adam Jones.
The additions of Stubbs and Bourn at least help with that last part. Either one could actually be capable of playing center field better than Nolan Reimold, and though neither one has hit well, they can hardly hit much worse than Reimold. Well, I say that, but what I kept saying about outfielders last year was, “Oh, (new guy) can hardly be worse than (guy who stunk)” and guess what? They all stunk.
You can’t really call this problem solved because the Orioles have to play Trumbo and Kim. They don’t have to, of course - you know what I mean. A seventh or eighth inning defensive replacement still means the Orioles must get through six or seven innings with a sub-par defensive outfield.
Thanks to a non-disastrous series against the Blue Jays - at least as far as the rotation is concerned - the Orioles rotation ERA has snuck below 5 to a 4.93 mark. Only one team in the American League has had its starting pitchers throw fewer innings than the Orioles, and that’s the 49-84 Twins, losers of 13 straight games.
The problem here is that the rotation is going to stay with its current makeup - and it’s probably going to stay without Chris Tillman for at least another week. That’s not a problem that will be solved by Wilson, Aquino, or Parker Bridwell or Odrisamer Despaigne or anyone else they might call up.
If there’s some good news, it’s that the struggling 60% of the rotation (and what an absurd phrase to apply to a team that is in a playoff spot on September 1) is coming off of three straight quality starts against the Blue Jays... so maybe they won’t be horrible?
The additions of extra pitchers will mean that at least the Orioles don’t have to desperately scramble to fill innings if there are a string of short starting pitching outings. But, at this point in the season, if they still end up having that problem, their playoff hopes are probably toast, so how much help is it, really?
The why of the Orioles second half offensive struggle is a matter for some debate, and not one that has just one answer, in any case. What is clear is the result: Before the All-Star break, the Orioles had an .800 OPS as a team and averaged 5.08 runs per game. Since the break, they’ve mustered only a .711 OPS and 3.98 runs per game.
The month of July was worse for the Orioles offense than August - at least by OPS with a .664 for July (holy crap! So bad!) and a .772 for August - but the August struggles might stick in your craw more - like the span of four losses in five games where the team lost 4-2, 3-2, 2-1, and 1-0 games. Those last two came against Zach Neal and Ross freaking Detwiler, for crying out loud.
Caleb Joseph and the Quest for a Zero RBI Season is not the solution to this problem. Even if the Orioles called up more hitters from the minors in hopes that someone like Christian Walker or Trey Mancini could spark the lineup, where are you going to play them?
Actually, there is some room to play with there. You wouldn’t want to replace Pedro Alvarez against a righty pitcher, but against a lefty, you could. Same with Kim. Though of course, the Orioles already traded for Steve Pearce as this kind of player, and their performance over the last six weeks makes it clear that, while they struggle against lefties, it’s not their only problem. Heck, the one game they won against the Jays was the one started by lefty J.A. Happ.
Either way, that doesn’t solve second half cold streaks for regular players like Matt Wieters (.612 OPS since the break) or Jonathan Schoop (.658). It doesn’t help them when they go 0-10 with runners in scoring position over the recently-concluded series with the Jays, when they actually had decent starting pitching.
For the most part, September call-ups are not going to be what saves the Orioles. Stubbs or Bourn might help them a bit, especially if Jones continues to miss some games the rest of the way, but as for the rest, the only people who can save the Orioles season are the people who’ve been here the whole time.
They’re good enough to do it. We’ve seen that when they’re at their best. Whether they will is another story. That’s what the last month of the baseball season will tell.