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Early season Orioles trends to keep an eye on

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The Orioles are off to a hot start, but looking a bit deeper at this team reveals a few trends that seem either unsustainable or underwhelming.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

After trips through New York and Toronto to start the 2019 season, the Orioles return today to Camden Yards for the home opener with two series wins and a 4-2 record. That’s light years better than many would have predicted leading up to the season. And unfortunately everyone is just waiting for the losing to set in.

So while the team is winning at the moment, it’s still natural as an Orioles fan during a rebuild to look deeper than the surface and try to see what’s below. Many games have been punctuated by solid defense and clutch hitting, but at the same time the O’s seem to be getting the lucky bounces right now, so to speak. That luck tends to run out.

It almost seems like this team is in a honeymoon period with their new manager. They’ve been able to overcome their shortcomings for the time being, like the overuse of the bullpen early on as detailed in Tyler Young’s recent piece. But there are some other things that don’t seem sustainable either.

Closer situation

Brandon Hyde refuses to name a closer, choosing instead to go with the committee approach. It’s working for now, but it’s been tense.

The Orioles have used four different relievers to register saves so far in the 2019 season. That list includes Paul Fry, Mike Wright, Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier.

Castro earned the most recent save, working an inning while allowing a hit and one run (via a solo home run). Going backwards from there, Bleier earned a save, but he gave up a run on two hits. There was a game where Mychal Givens started the ninth but only made it two-thirds of the way through. Givens gave up a run and was replaced by Fry, who got the final out. In the O’s first save of the season, Bleier started the ninth but couldn’t finish it after allowing two runs. Wright came on in that case and put out the fire, getting the final two outs.

Personally, I am a firm believer in the notion that the ninth inning is a different animal than any other inning and it takes a special pitcher to take on that task on a regular basis. That person not only requires a short memory, but also ice water in his veins. And I know what you’re thinking, these are professional athletes who are the best in the world; they should all have ice water in their veins. And I don’t disagree, but again, the ninth inning is just different.

Lopsided lineup

In most of their matchups so far this season, the Orioles have been powered by their two, three and four hole hitters. As far as the leadoff spot, Cedric Mullins has gotten a handful of opportunities there, but he is only hitting .059 on the season.

Dwight Smith Jr. occupies the number two spot in the lineup usually, and he’s hitting .333. Jonathan Villar, the three hole hitter, is slashing .320/.346/.560, and cleanup hitter Trey Mancini is hitting .417/.400/.833.

No other everyday player has a batting average higher than catcher Jesus Sucre (.250).

Yes it’s very early in the season. But the team will need more production from the bottom half of the lineup. The three guys mentioned above will inevitably go through some cold stretches during the season, and in order to avoid any prolonged team slumps, other players will have to pick up the slack.

Batters’ BB/K ratio

An important quality for a formidable lineup is patience. Hitters who work the count are able to jack up a starter’s pitch count and knock him out of the game early. That, in turn, taxes the opponent’s bullpen, burns out a pitching staff, and has the possibility to create mismatches.

Not to mention, patience leads to walks, creating baserunners who put more pressure on the pitcher. Orioles teams of recent years have lacked patience, on the whole. Early on this season, that seems no different under Hyde.

Chris Davis leads the team with four walks (he also has zero hits). Joey Rickard is second on the club with three free passes, while Renato Nunez and Richie Martin each have a pair. Everyone else on the team has one or none.

Here are the BB/K numbers for the Orioles lineup for the first six games: 1/9, 1/9, 7/11, 3/12, 2/8, and 1/10. The outlier here is the game where the O’s worked seven walks. In the rest of the games, strikeouts far outnumbered free passes.

While the O’s aren’t among the league leaders in walks, they aren’t dead last either. They rank 20th out of 30 clubs with 14 walks. In terms of strikeouts, they are right near the middle of the pack at 13th (49 K’s).

So maybe it’s not as bad as it seems. At the same time, there is a lot of room for improvement.