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Maybe the Orioles are actually bad

The team’s hot start to the season may have masked some glaring weaknesses that showed themselves this past week.

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Every year, prior to the beginning of the MLB season, statisticians and experts release their projections and predictions. Every year, the Orioles are picked to finish near the bottom of the American League East. Every year, the Orioles outperform their projections. But following the end of a horrific seven-game losing streak on Monday, it has to leave some wondering if maybe the analysts were actually right this year. Are the Orioles bad?

Currently, the O’s have a 26-23 record, sit 3.5 games behind the Yankees for first place in the division, and are tied with Cleveland for the second wild card spot. At this rate of play, the Birds would finish with an 86-76 record. That would be three wins worse than they did a year ago, but a whopping 13 wins better than their pre-season PECOTA projections.

For those who don’t know, PECOTA is a system that was created by Nate Silver back in 2003. It uses probabilities and statistics to predict the outcome of baseball games. The system’s name comes from former player Bill Pecota who played nine seasons with the Royals, Mets and Braves and put together what amounted to a pretty solid, but unspectacular, MLB career.

Of course, it’s one thing to win a baseball game. It is quite another for a team’s win-loss record to accurately reflect how good they are. As has been another trademark of the Orioles the last handful of seasons, the club is currently winning more games than they should. Bill James’ Pythagorean winning percentage says the O’s should be 24-25, two games worse than their actual record.

The reason for this is simple; the O’s have been outscored by their opponents on the year. The Orioles have 216 runs to their opponents 222 runs. It shouldn’t come as a shock, but winning teams don’t typically allow more runs than they earn. If the team actually won games at the rate that this Pythagorean model predicts, they would finish the season 79-83, still six games better than their PECOTA wins but, in all likelihood, quite a distance from playoff contention.

Reasons to worry

The Month of May is just coming to a close, which means the O’s still have four months of baseball, including a trade deadline, to right the ship and head back towards October action. That said, there are some signs that the team is in serious trouble.

First and foremost, the offense, save for a few unexpected sources of production, has been pretty bad. The .251 team batting average is 18th in baseball. The .309 on-base percentage is 26th. As a result, the 216 runs scored is 21st in MLB. For reference, the O’s finished 15th, 21st and 12th in those respective categories a year ago.

Chris Davis is striking out a lot. A massive 38 percent of his at-bats are ending in a K, that’s the largest number of his career. In part because of that, he is batting just .222 despite having a .325 batting average on balls in play.

Both Dylan Bundy and Wade Miley have had very nice starts to the season, but it doesn’t seem totally sustainable. They have ERAs of 2.89 and 3.02, respectively, but FIPs of 4.03 and 4.61. For Bundy, that’s probably because he is still only striking out 6.15 per nine innings and has a BABIP against of .263. Miley on the other hand is tap dancing on a mine field with his massive 5.20 walks per nine innings. If that doesn’t come down soon, his ERA is sure to skyrocket. Not to mention, he has just 53.2 innings in 10 starts. The lefty needs to go deeper in games.

But the biggest concern may be that fifth starter spot. Alec Asher was terrible against Houston on Sunday. Ubaldo Jimenez came into that same game and did a nice job from the bullpen, but everyone knows about his struggles. Tyler Wilson has been knocked around recently. The team is running out of internal options. Maybe give Mike Wright a chance? Wow, can’t believe it’s come to that.

Reasons for hope

Everyone keeps waiting for Manny Machado to break out of his season-long funk. It may be starting to sound like a broken record, but there are serious signs that he is actually due to see that batting average shoot up and, with it, should come the Orioles winning percentage.

The third baseman is walking in 10.3 percent of his at-bats, the best rate of his career. Of course, he is also striking out 20.1 percent of the time, the worst rate of his career. As Camden Chat’s own Nick Cicere pointed out recently, this is an adjustment Machado needs to make. Pitchers aren’t giving him as many good pitches to hit. Rather than swinging anyway, the Orioles superstar needs to show some discipline.

It may get harder everyday to do so, but Machado is just too good to stay down all season. He has been in a prolonged funk, but he is talented enough to break out any day now. Of course, that is not a guarantee, but it sure feels more likely than anything else.

In the way that Bundy and Miley have been so good and over-performed slightly, the opposite is likely true of Kevin Gausman and Chris Tillman. Gausman is suffering from a tough .350 BABIP against and has career-worst marks in both strikeouts (6.33) and walks (3.67) per nine innings. Tillman has made only four starts since returning from the disabled list. The righty has been solid, but he too has had tough BABIP luck. His mark is up at .357 against and he has a 3.03 FIP against a 4.43 ERA. One would think both will improve.

The bullpen has been a disappointment, but that is what happens when the best member of the unit misses most of the season. Zach Britton was fantastic a year ago. Now he is on the shelf until around the All-Star break. If/when he returns, it lengthens the ‘pen and takes pressure off of everyone. Of course, if the struggles we saw from him prior to the injury resurface, then it could be a tough road to hoe.