Tonight, the Baltimore Orioles are playing their 94th and last game prior to the beginning of the All-Star Break. Win or lose, the O’s will be the American League East Division leaders heading into the hiatus.
Here are some things to ponder about the Orioles, when their season resumes after the break (Beginning Friday vs. the Athletics in Oakland).
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
1) Under ESPN’s Sunday Night lights, Kevin Gausman is making his 7th start of the 2014 season tonight vs. the Yankees. With the Birds having secured an additional year of service time for Gausman; my assumption is that he will be in the rotation here on out for the remainder of the year. The O’s may not need Gausman to be more than a regularly capable starter to win the Division. However, when I picture the scenarios which could enable Baltimore to win multiple post-season series; I come back to the idea that Gausman would have to play a significant part. Anyone that watches the 23 year old recognizes the immense talent he possesses. What is more difficult to remember, is that Gausman still has limited professional experience. Is Gausman ready to be a consistent force?
2) I don’t know anyone that expected Chris Davis to fully replicate his magical 2013 season, but his first 279 ab’s of ’14 remain a tremendous disappointment. Entering tonight, Davis is batting .197, with an OPS under .700. To put that into context, last year Davis slugged .634 for the season. Here in ’14, Davis has a combined on-base & slugging % of .688. It is no secret that the O’s offense is reliant on power. They do not get enough runners on-base, and they have little ability to manufacture runs. When those who carried the O’s offense up until the break cool off; Davis will have to make up some of that slack. When you look at some of Davis’ numbers there are reasons for optimism. He’s walking at a good rate (actually higher than last year). There is reason to think his BABIP will normalize. If you watch him daily though, there has to be some concern, and it goes beyond the shifting. There are too many wasted at-bats. He often gives the look of a guy trying to get his season back-on-track with one swing. Looking for the Rock N’Jock 10 run homer. He needs to refocus on having quality ab’s. Using all-fields with his immense power. Realistically, he’s been so poor, it would be hard for him not to be better the remainder of the season. Optimistically, I retain hope that he can get on an extended run where he goes back to ‘Crushing’ everything.
3) Moves can of course be made in August, but the July 31st non-waiver deadline is looming. When the O’s recently reached the true beginning of their 2nd half (the 82nd game of the year) I wrote that, “The current roster gets another Month to show who exactly they are. If the O’s Front-Office decides they are legitimate contenders (not just to reach the Post-season, but to win the American League); then the Front-Office will have to be prepared to add to this roster.” Since that point, the O’s have gone from trailing Toronto by 1.5 games, to leading the East by 3.5 games. The Orioles are now 9 games over .500. They are in a great position to win the Division. That is a goal, but not the ultimate prize though. While favored in the East, the O’s would be underdogs in a series vs. Oakland, or Detroit. A puncher’s (or in this case sluggers) chance, but an underdog all the same.
Can you add to the bullpen, and/or improve 2nd base? We’ve previously mentioned the Rangers Jokim Soria, and the Rays Ben Zobrist as potential options.
Who else might the O’s consider pursuing? Might Boston make our old friend Koji Uehara available? I’ve heard people suggest Glen Perkins from the Twins, but his remaining contract looks prohibitive. Is their 2nd baseman Brian Dozier available? With a team friendly contract, probably not.
How about Soria’s teammate Neftali Feliz? Houston 2nd baseman Jose Altuve is having a strong year. Altuve signed a 4 year extension, with 2 option years a year ago today. Just 24 years old, guessing the Astros are not looking to move him. However, being that they are 16 games under .500 and most of their talent is still on the come; maybe they would consider it?
Chase Utley seems likely to stay in Philadelphia.
Run out of Baltimore last year; Pedro Strop is having a quality year in the Cubs bullpen. I guess that speaks to volatility of relievers, but it also speaks to his abilities when he can harness his control. (One might also suggest it points to pitching in the lower-pressured environment which is last place in the NL Central.)
One of the targets that continues to interest me is San Diego’s Chase Headley. He had a monster 2012, stepped back in ’13, and has stepped back again offensively so far this year. Still, for his career, he has shown a willingness to take a walk. I think he could certainly improve the offense. You might be asking where? It’s a bit of a gamble, but my bet is that a high quality 3rd baseman like Headley could be a passable 2nd baseman. Likely a step-below Flaherty’s defense (or Schoop around the bag), but livable considering the better offense he would bring.
There have already been stories about the O’s monitoring the Rockies De La Rosa. That only makes sense to me if the O’s are envisioning him as a reliever.
Of course the quickest way to really move the meter would be a high-caliber front-end starter. Unfortunately, they do not grow on trees. The best two starters which could plausibly be available are the Rays David Price, and Texas’s Yu Darvish; and while plausible – the odds are extremely low that the O’s could obtain either. The Rays are 9 games under .500, and 8 games out of the 2nd Wild Card. They seem currently inclined to see if they can close that gap further over the next couple of weeks. Also, my sense is that the Rays would ideally want positional prospects from someone if they moved Price, and would probably prefer not to trade Price within the Division. That said, if they elected to move him; they would take the package of the best talent they were offered.
With the Rangers 19 games under .500; would Texas consider moving Darvish? If he was available, his recent struggles would not trouble me. I’d be excited about obtaining the to-be 28 year-old ace, with the very reasonable contract (signed through ’17, $31M owed over the next 3 years).
Two starters that could possibly help, and would be far easier to obtain are our other old-friend Jake Arrieta, and Houston’s Dallas Keuchel.
Of course if you traded for Arrieta, or Keuchel – you would have to believe they are demonstrably better than what you have, and that is debatable.
4) Assuming another starter is not obtained, there are still 6 starters (Tillman, Jimenez, Chen, Norris, Gonzalez, Gausman) for 5 spots. If Gausman has a spot in the rotation from here on out, who goes to the bullpen – Norris or Gonzalez?
Norris 2014: 7-6, 3.96 era, 4.47 xFIP, 91 ip, 79 hits, 12 hr’s, 29 bb’s, 62 k’s, .714 OPS
Gonzalez 2014: 4-5, 4.04 era, 4.60 xFIP, 89 ip, 97 hits, 16 hr’s, 32 bb’s, 69 k’s, .831 OPS
You could certainly make arguments either way. One thing I note when looking at the splits for each, is that Norris has had far more success than Gonzalez on pitches 1-30. Either one might be a weapon out of the pen, but I can more easily picture Norris coming in and maxing out.
5) The Orioles have played 15 games against other Division leaders (Detroit, Oakland, Washington, and Milwaukee), and are 5-10 in those games. Against the 2nd place teams they’ve played (Toronto, & Kansas City) they are 8-9.
Starting with Friday in Oakland, the next 29 games (through August 17th) will all be against teams with a .500 record or above. The old adage is beat up the poor the teams, and play .500 against the best. Since the O’s have struggled a bit to-date against higher quality teams; you’d like to see them show a bit better against the best in this pending stretch.