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For the Orioles to improve in the second half, they need their best to play better

The Orioles brought the players they wanted into this season - namely, almost all of last year’s team. They’re not playing how the team had hoped, though.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals
The Orioles need to see a lot more of this in the second half this season.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles have rolled into the All-Star break with a 42-46 record. That’s the worst record they have had at the break since the 2011 season. Every year since, when they have either contended or pretended to contend, they have entered the second half of the season with a .500 or better record. It’s one more way of saying what we already know: This team is nothing like the successful O’s teams of the recent past.

One reason that’s such a surprise is that it’s just the opposite of that: This team is almost exactly the same Orioles team that racked up 89 wins and qualified for the wild card in the American League last season.

Or at least, that’s how things started out. Some injuries have come along to throw a wrench in the works. The impact of the Zach Britton injury is not a trivial thing. Some of the season’s worst and most gut-wrenching losses, the ones that felt like they started or prolonged tailspins, have been ones that directly connected to the absence of Britton.

Still, I think we all know that there’s more going wrong than can be explained by players missing time while being on the disabled list. It’s not so much a matter of the Orioles not having the players they wanted to have. It’s that the players they were planning to have just aren’t delivering the way that they were expected to.

The list of underperforming Orioles is basically the same as the list of Orioles who will be needed to get them back to a good place. It’s not going to be an easy journey. On Sunday’s MASN broadcast, Jim Palmer said that he thinks the Orioles might need as many as 50 wins in the second half in order to get back into the postseason. That would be a 50-28 second half. Yikes.

How much hope is there? Help doesn’t seem like it’s coming from what’s there in the system already, as Camden Chat’s Tyler Young wrote last week.

The farm system being what it is means that help may not be coming from the outside, either. The kinds of unhelpful trades that the team made in 2013 and 2015 in what proved to be futile postseason chases are enough to make you wince at the idea of there being more of those between now and the end of July.

It all adds up to hope for the second half lying in players improving. As these players have gone, so go the Orioles. So far, where they’ve gone is uncomfortably close to last place in the division. If the team is going to get to Palmer’s suggested 50 second half wins, this is who they’re going to need to do it.

Manny Machado

Last year, Machado was one of the best-hitting third basemen in the whole league. This year, he’s one of the worst. A .230/.296/.445 batting line just isn’t good enough. It’s a frustrating thing. Over the last month or so, the Orioles have finally been batting Machado second in the lineup, where the best hitter belongs, according to modern baseball thinking.

It’s tough to know exactly what to blame this on, though it seems like everyone has a theory about it. With as hard as Machado has seemed to be hitting the ball, his having a .239 average on balls in play, compared to a career BABIP mark of .301, stands out. That bad luck, if it really is bad luck, has to turn around eventually, doesn’t it?

Hope for the second half: 9/10

Maybe I’m a homer or maybe I’m a sucker, but I just don’t think Machado will keep hitting so poorly. Maybe the six game hitting streak he’s taking into the break is the beginning of his ascent from the depths.

Chris Tillman

The warning signs were there. As soon as Tillman reported to camp and revealed he had a PRP injection in his shoulder over the offseason, we should have known putting hope in him was not good. Yet the Orioles had no choice but to hope for Tillman to be something like the solid pitcher he’s been in the past.

What they’ve gotten instead is the worst year of Tillman’s career. His velocity is down, despite MLB measurement changes that have added 1-2 miles per hour to many pitchers across the league. Command is down. Home runs, ever a problem for Tillman at his best, are worse than ever. As far as the Wins Above Replacement metrics are concerned, the Orioles would be better off without Tillman at all.

Hope for the second half: 0/10

When I started this post, I imagined it would be a standard 1-10 scale for second half hope, but the truth is that I can’t give Tillman even the smallest positive number. The only high number has been, and probably will be, his ERA.

Kevin Gausman

Fewer strikeouts than ever, more walks than ever, doing worse at stranding runners than ever. What a mess. It’s added up to batters against Gausman having a combined .318/.387/.480 batting line. This struggle feels like a personal betrayal. It’s not, of course - that’s a fan being dramatic. But it’s not fun.

This was supposed to be the year he took a leap forward because that’s what the Orioles needed him to do. Instead, the only thing he’s leading the league is in WHIP.

Hope for the second half: 5/10

And that’s me being optimistic, because at times Gausman has looked like a cross between Orioles-era Jake Arrieta and Orioles rotation-era Brian Matusz. Still, in the same vein as Machado, it just feels like he can’t keep being THIS bad, not when there’s no physical reason for it.

Chris Davis

Last year, Davis was something of a disappointment in the first year of his $161 million contract. Much later, a reason was offered by O’s media: That he had been suffering from a hand injury that hampered him all last season. Things would be better this year, right?

Davis batting line in 2016: .221/.332/.459

Davis batting line in 2017: .226/.320/.461

So much for that improvement when Davis’s hand was healed. And what’s more, the already strikeout-heavy Davis is striking out in an astronomical 38.0% of his plate appearances so far this season. Offense seems to be exploding across the league, but nobody told the 2013 and 2015 MLB home run leader.

Hope for the second half: 8/10

The man who is tumbling over a cliff towards a grisly demise on the rocks below doesn’t grab for the nearest protruding root because he knows or believes that it will catch his fall and support him. He grabs it because it’s the only thing that’s there and if it doesn’t work, then it won’t matter for long.

Davis is heading out on a rehab assignment on his road back from his oblique strain. An oblique injury was supposedly a big factor in his 2014 down season. I don’t know if everything will be better this time, but if it’s not, the hill the Orioles have to climb will be that much tougher.