As the sun sets on the first half of the 2013 MLB season, the Baltimore Orioles find themselves in a good spot standings-wise, as they are only 4.5 games behind the first place Boston Red Sox in the AL East, and only 1.5 games behind Texas in the Wild Card standings. Most people thought the team would regress from their surprise success last season, due to their exceptional record in one-run and extra inning games. However, the team has better stats in almost all categories, and is winning despite their luck in tight games not quite being what it was last year. Below, I’ll take a look at how some individual players and groups on the O’s have performed thus far, as well as take a look forward at some potential moves that could be made in the second half of the season.
Chris Davis – A : Why not start with MLB’s current home run leader? Davis has been a revelation this year for Baltimore, exploding right out of the game with 16 RBI in the first four games of the year. He trots into the break with 93 RBI and 37 home runs, a feat that has only previously been done three times by guys named Jackson, McGwire, and Bonds. Not bad company. This year is made even more impressive if you know the struggles he went through previously, which you can read about in my profile of Davis. The only reason I couldn’t give him an A+? He has struck out 110 times, 6th most in the league. But besides that, he’s been stellar.
Adam Jones – A : Despite all the attention Davis has been getting, Jones is just as big of a factor in the Orioles success, if not more so. He has been a team leader both on the field and in the locker room, and his numbers this year are as good as they’ve ever been. He has also continued to play fantastic defense in center field, and recently showed off his arm on a 360-degree spinning throw to gun down a runner at second. The team would like to see him walk a little bit more, but when a guy’s as good of a hitter as Jones is, you can’t complain too much.
Manny Machado – A+ : The young stud gets a perfect score from me, mainly because he exceeded Orioles fans (very high) expectations for his sophomore campaign, and has shown an outrageous baseball I.Q. for a newly-21 year old. Machado is 11th in the AL in average at .310, and leads everyone in baseball in doubles (39). Add to that a Brooks Robinson-esque defensive ability and an absolute cannon of an arm, and the sky is the limit for Machado. He has been truly a joy to watch for the first 96 games of the year, and his All-Star selection is very much deserved.
Jim Johnson – B : Some people will say this is too high, but those people are being unfair, in my opinion. There was zero chance that Johnson was going to be as good as he was last season. And yes, he has blown his fair share of saves this year (6). But he still leads the majors with 33 saves converted, and recently he’s been better, though he still always seems to make it interesting in the 9th. If he can keep his walks down, he has a chance to have a great second half, and the Orioles will need him to be good during their playoff push.
The rest of the bullpen – C+ : This is the area that is really different than last season, as the bullpen ERA is almost a full run higher than it was last year. A lot of that can be put on the struggles of the now-departed Pedro Strop, but Brian Matusz and Troy Patton haven’t been great either, and TJ McFarland has cooled off considerably after a pretty good start to the season. Now, Darren O’Day has been great as expected, and Tommy Hunter has turned into a force in the 7th/8th inning. But the rest of the guys need to step up in the second half, as games will get tighter and bullpens will become even more important.
Starting Rotation – B : If I had written this piece a month ago, this grade would have been way, way lower. But the rotation has turned it around as of late, especially at the top. Chris Tillman has been a model of consistency, and the rest of the league has noticed, as Tillman was named to the All-Star team as an injury replacement. Miguel Gonzalez has also been very efficient and has turned into a solid #3 starter. With Wei-Yin Chen looking superb in his first start off the disabled list, and a 2.82 ERA overall, there’s a chance he turns into the #1 starter Baltimore has desperately needed for two years now. At the back end, things are still a little muddy, with Jason Hammel continuing to struggle, and Scott Feldman looking average in three starts since coming over from the Cubs. But there’s much more hope here than there was a few weeks ago.
OF Henry Urrutia – The Cuban defector has been a hitting machine at AA Bowie/AAA Norfolk, with a .365 average and 7 home runs, along with 43 RBI. He played in the Futures game yesterday (hitless) and has the potential to be the Baltimore version of Yasiel Puig, although maybe not quite as good right away. Buck Showalter has said that Urrutia “has a chance to help [Baltimore] at some point”, so if Oriole DHs continue to struggle, look for Urrutia’s promotion to the big leagues sooner rather than later.
1B Alex Liddi – Recently acquired in a minor league trade with the Mariners, Liddi is another potential DH candidate. Hitting .266 for the year (.296 since the trade), Liddi has 7 homers and 50 RBI between both organizations. The Italian-born righty was once a hot name in Seattle, but fell out of favor, and now has a chance to come to Baltimore and contribute.
RP Tim Alderson – Also recently acquired by trade (Pittsburgh), Alderson may get promoted if some in the O’s bullpen can’t fix their issues. He has had a very good year, currently holding a 2.43 ERA and a .214 BAA. A first-round pick in 2007, Alderson never put it together as a starter, but has a chance to be a very good reliever for the O’s.
Potential trade targets
Along with the pitching targets outlined here, Baltimore could opt to add another right handed bat, since they seem to struggle slightly against good left-handers. A 4th-outfielder that fits this mold is Marlon Byrd, though it is unclear whether the O’s are willing to give up what the Mets would want, especially because he would take on a bench role in Baltimore. They could also look for a veteran 2B in case Brian Roberts goes down with another injury, especially because Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla struggled when they got opportunities.