How good are the Orioles right now?
The low point of the Orioles season was three games into the “second half”, after the AS game. They had just been swept, in a three game series at home, to the Chicago Cubs. In that series, they were outscored by 16 runs and were barely competitive in any of the games. They were 42-49 and looked dead and buried. After that series, FanGraphs pegged the O’s odds of making the playoffs at 3%. Since that series, the team has gone 26-16. Included in that is the current 7 game winning streak that includes a sweep in Fenway and a sweep of Seattle, a team that has been ahead of the O’s for much of the season for that second WC birth. So, what changed? Why has this team, a team that had a 59 game stretch where they won 20 of those games, all of a sudden started playing like one of the best teams in baseball?
(You can discuss this article on the BSL message board here.)
The first and most obvious reason is the offense. In the second of the season, the Orioles lead the AL in runs scored, OPS, OBP, BA, Slugging, wOBA, wRC+ and homers. In many of those categories, the teams that are in second place are not even close. According to Gary Thorne during last nights broadcast, the ML record for slugging%, as a team in a month, is .525. The Orioles currently stand at .526. What happened to this offense? In the first half of the year, this was a below average offense. What changed? The two biggest changes are obvious, Manny Machado and Tim Beckham.
Machado was mired in a bad slump for most of the first half of the year. On July 6th, Machado had an OPS of .701. His OBP was .283. He had hit 12 homers and driven in 41 runs in 316 at bats. His BA after that game was .215. Since then, he has exploded. His slash line in July was 327/379/490/870. By the time July ended, Manny had his OPS up 53 points and his BA up 31 points. But the real explosion has been this month. In the month of August, Machado’s slash line is 345/344/714/1059. He has 12 homers and 34 RBIs this month alone. That is almost as many as he had from OD until July 6 in each category. Having Machado play at his normal MVP level has been huge for the team. The other major thing that has happened is the arrival of Tim Beckham. What he has done for the Orioles’ offense has been tremendous. The O’s were a team lacked a true leadoff hitter (something he may not be normally but has been here). They needed some more guys getting on base in front of the bigger hitters. Beckham has been doing that at will. Beckham doesn’t have a history even remotely saying he will continue to stay at this level and he’s not normally a great OBP guy but since he came here, he has been on fire. His slash line for August is 393/418/667/1085. He has 18 extra base hits and 18 RBIs. He has been the single best trade deadline pick up in baseball and the deal for him was an afterthought by basically everyone. These two guys are probably 1 and 1a in the AL Player of the Month race.
But the offense hasn’t been just those two players either. Schoop continues to be very good with an OPS of .900 in the second half of the season. Him and Machado look like they are going to battle it out for the teams homer title. On July 3rd, Adam Jones’ OPS stood at .713. It’s at .791 now. He has had a big month as well. He has a .934 OPS, 6 homers, 8 doubles and has driven in 15 runs. He also just set the Orioles franchise record for most consecutive 25 homer seasons. Mancini has also continued his steady play with an .840 in August. The offense is certainly carrying the team right now but that’s not the only thing the O’s have going for them.
The O’s bullpen is currently 5th in the AL in ERA. However, since the AS break, they are #1 in the AL in ERA. They just continue to be steady out there, although they aren’t the shut down pen they have been but they have been very good and they are doing it at the right time. Miguel Castro, who got the win today, has been huge for the team. He has thrown 31 Innings in the second half of the season. He has an ERA of 2.30 and has been in 16 games. Much like Beckham, Castro has been a total surprise and been enormous for this team. Givens, Britton and Brach haven’t been as sharp this month though and I do believe for this team to make the playoffs and to have a chance to make some noise in the playoffs, those guys need to get back on track. O’Day has an ERA of 1.38 this month. Hopefully he can keep up his current high level of pitching and the 4 of those guys can form the dominant back end of the pen we all felt they would when we entered the season.
Last but not least is the much-maligned rotation. While the starters ERA is still terrible, it is much better in the second half compared to the second half. Dylan Bundy has led the staff in the month of August. He is 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA in the month of August. His K rate, which was in the 5-6 range for much of the second half, is up to almost 8 after his outstanding complete game shut out last night. Kevin Gausman has also been much better. While the home run rate is still crazy high, his second half ERA is 3.46, which is almost 2.5 runs better than it was in the first half. His K rate is back up to where we thought it would be and the control and command have improved. These two carrying the staff is what we envisioned heading into the season and they appear to be putting the rotation on their backs in the stretch run. They are also getting enough good starts out of Miley and Hellickson to keep the pen as fresh as possible and allow the offense to score and get wins. Ubaldo Jimenez started the second half off well. He had four solid starts but he has had three straight terrible starts, including his start today where he couldn’t make it out of the third inning. The Orioles have allowed Tillman to start as well. While it may have been good because it has given Bundy some extra rest, it has backfired in terms of results. Tillman looks completely done for the year.
What will be interesting to see is will Buck Showalter give Jimenez or Tillman any meaningful innings the rest of the year. I understand they don’t have many options and I get that Castro has been great out of the pen but I wonder if there is any thought in giving him a chance to be in the rotation the rest of the year. With the rosters about to expand, the Orioles can bring up several guys to give them length out of the pen if needs be. The other option is that the waiver trade deadline is Thursday, so perhaps the Orioles add another starter. I just don’t see how you can put Tillman or Jimenez out there for any meaningful innings the rest of this season. Something has to be done if you are truly trying to win this wild card spot.
With all the teams around them either fading or just not being very good, the Orioles stand a great chance to make the playoffs. They have the most talent and the best pedigree of the teams realistically in this race. They do have a tough schedule down the stretch but they performed at a high level vs. the AL East (30-22 record) and that is who they predominately play in the last part of the season. FanGraphs currently has the O’s playoff odds at 17.8%. Inexplicably, they have the Twins at 36.8% and the Angels at 27.8%. No way those teams have that much higher odds than the Orioles do although the Angels do have the best player of the generation playing for them, so there is that. To me, the Orioles should be considered the favorite right now. That is always subject to change with so much volatility in this race but the O’s, as I said, have the talent advantage and the pedigree that those teams just don’t have.