Silver Linings In A Cloudy Orioles Season
Not every game this season at Camden Yards has been tormented with the threat of rain, but it certainly feels that way.
In what seems like a century ago, the Baltimore Orioles did indeed win their season opener against the Minnesota Twins. Of course, they then lost their next five, setting the tone for what has undeniably been a miserable season.
But while It has been rough and signs of relief are hard to come by – at least in the near future – I’m not going to pile on in this article. Instead, let’s take a break from the negativity and look at some developments that could potentially have an impact in a good way. Even if the results might not show themselves for some time.
Here are some silver linings in a cloudy Orioles season.
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Having the season crater early forces their hands
The worst thing in sports is to be mediocre. When you’re on the fringes of contention you can always justify going for it even when you shouldn’t. Just because you might have an outside chance at a wild card, that doesn’t make you a legitimate championship contender.
Let’s say the Orioles were hanging around .500 right now, like Oakland is, and sitting six or seven games out of the second wild card spot. You’ve got Manny Machado tearing the cover off the ball, you’ve got Jonathan Schoop (hopefully) beginning to find his stroke as he gets healthy. You’ve got Zach Britton and Darren O’Day on the mend and returning (hopefully) soon. What if they made a trade or two to boost the offense? What if they went out and got another starter?
You could certainly make the case for it. But what would it get them in the end? Yes, anyone can win a wild-card game. But would they have a chance against the Houston Astros in a series? How about the Yankees? Or the Red Sox? Yes, anything can happen when you make the playoffs. But the most likely outcome in that scenario is that the Orioles fall short of the playoffs while doing nothing to improve for the future. In fact, they would be in worse shape for the future.
That’s the benefit, as painful as it is to watch, of the rough start to this season. The illusion of sporting a contender isn’t there. There is no point to twisting yourself into mental knots to justify short-term moves. Whoever is making the decisions in the Orioles front office can do what needs to be done – blow the thing up – with a clear conscience.
Whether or not they do it is another story. Machado, after all, is still on the roster. But they have political cover to do so, and that is the silver lining to having such a poor first third of the season.
They’re going to get a chance to showcase Zach Britton
Machado isn’t the only potential elite trade piece the Orioles will be able to shop. Britton, out since injuring his Achilles tendon over the winter, has had two solid rehab outings in the minors – one at Single-A Frederick and one at Double-A Bowie. Next up are four scheduled outings at Triple-A Norfolk.
That means he could be back with the Orioles by mid-June, giving him about six weeks to showcase his stuff before the trade deadline. If he shows he’s still got his heavy sinker working, contenders with bullpen issues – Indians, Cardinals, Twins, Angels, Rockies, Dodgers? — should be lining up to make a deal. It will be sad to see Britton go, but horrible teams don’t have much use for elite closers, especially those set to become free agents, so you may as well get what you can for him now.
Brad Brach is also in the final year of his contract and should go. And Darren O’Day, who could return from the DL soon after Britton, could be on the block as well. He’s a free agent after the 2019 season.
Kevin Gausman looks … better?
I wrote earlier this season that there are actually two Kevin Gausmans. And that pretty much stands up so far this season. He’s an enigma, a pitcher with amazing stuff who is seemingly allergic to consistency and to pitch command. He is also susceptible to the home run.
And while Gausman continues to befuddle, and he continues to give up too many home runs (career-worst 1.7/9 innings this season), he does look better than in seasons past. He looks more like a pitcher, less like a thrower. And while he has historically been a horrible first-half pitcher, he has been better this season.
Here are Gausman’s career first/second half splits, followed by his 2018 numbers:
First half: 4.88 ERA, 1.459 WHIP, 2.82 SO/BB ratio.
Second half: 3.58 ERA, 1.243 WHIP, 3.34 SO/BB ratio.
2018: 4.63 ERA, 1.400 WHIP, 4.00 SO/BB ratio.
It’s not a gigantic improvement, but it’s an improvement, and the SO/BB ratio does show better command. And if Gausman continues his career trend of being a second-half pitcher, we could very well be looking at an elite-level hurler after the All-Star break. Perhaps that’s too optimistic, but it’s not outrageous to think the Orioles could be looking at a maturing (finally) and more reliable Kevin Gausman.
Chance Sisco has improved on his perceived weak points
There were legitimate questions about Chance Sisco when he broke spring training with the Orioles this spring. He’s always been able to hit, but questions persisted: Can he call a game? Can he control the running game? Can he handle all the little things catchers have to handle?
So far, things look pretty good, and ironically, it’s been the bat that has underperformed in 2018, as Sisco is hitting just .210/.325/.330 this season.
When it comes to the running game, Sisco has been decent if unspectacular. He has allowed 24 stolen bases while throwing out nine. That’s a 27 percent caught stealing percentage, which is about the expected league average. And he’s done that despite a below-average POP time of 2.09, which ranks 70th in MLB.
Defensively, Sisco has committed just one error and has yet to allow a passed ball. Buck Showalter pointed this out about a week ago, telling The Sun that “He’s had two or three games here – he has really been catching well. I don’t think people sometimes realized the number of balls he blocked last night – tough blocks, really short out of the [dirt].”
When it comes to pitch framing, Sisco still has a lot of work to do, ranking among the worst in MLB with -2.8 Runs Above Average. By comparison, Yasmani Grandal leads MLB at 7.6 RAA. Caleb Joseph isn’t much better than Sisco, coming in at -2.0.
Of course, once Rob Manfred gets his automated strike zone, pitch framing won’t matter anymore, so I’d worry more about getting Sisco’s bat going at this point.
They might have a find in David Hess
Who saw this coming? MLB Pipeline, which ranks Hess as the O’s No. 16 prospect, said Hess’ curve and slider are “average,” and his changeup “serviceable.” It then went on to say this:
“Questions remain about whether Hess, with his high-effort delivery and lack of an out pitch, can remain a starter. It’s long been thought that his stuff would play up in short bursts out of the bullpen, where his fastball-breaking ball pairing could make him a force against right-handed hitters.”
Well, in four starts for the Orioles, Hess has a 3.47 ERA and a 122 ERA+. There are some warning signs, including a 4.6 SO/9 innings, 5.65 FIP and an unsustainable .236 BABIP. But so far, so good.
And if Pipeline is right and Hess’ stuff will play up better in the pen, well there could be some openings there as well later this season.