After a 1-0 win over Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers, the Baltimore Orioles are 22-12 and in the midst of a 6 game winning streak. They are currently tied for third in run differential and trail only the Chicago White Sox in winning percentage in the American League. They are playing .500 baseball on the road (7-7) and .750 ball at home (15-5). They are allowing 3.4 runs per game and scoring 4.3 runs per game.

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The question is, just how good is this team? This is a team that many saw as a 500ish team entering the season. We saw defensive issues on the corner OF positions (those still exist), on base issues and, of course, the starting pitching seemed to be the glaring weakness. We knew they would catch the ball in the IF ad get good defense behind the plate and in CF. We also knew the bullpen would be, at worst, very good and likely elite and that the team would hit a ton of homers. So far, a lot of that has come to fruition but some of the weaknesses aren’t as bad as we thought, or at least they aren’t bad yet.

Looking at the pitching, we see a team that is 4th in the AL in team ERA. The bullpen is 1st in the AL in ERA and the starters are 7th. The bullpen isn’t being overworked though. They are 8th in the AL in IP and that is in fewer games than some of the teams have played. The starters are 10th in IP but, after a slow start, they are averaging 5.2 IP per start. Would be nice to see them get into the 6-6.2IP per start area but it is building. 10 of the last 13 starts have seen the starters go at least 6 innings and several of those games; they went 7 and 8 innings. The staff continues to keep the homers down. They are the BEST in the AL in HR/9. That is astounding for a team that has consistently been on the worst staffs in baseball at giving up the homer over the last 20+ years. I still expect that to go up but with the staff throwing more groundballs and getting more strikeouts than in the past, they may be able to keep the number down some vs. their recent historical averages.

They also have the best FIP, as a staff, in baseball. The FIP currently stands as the same as their ERA. Their xFIP isn’t as good and is only middle of the pack but it is still an improvement over what we have seen. As I have noted on different occasions, there are a lot of signs that this team’s pitching philosophy is headed in a different direction and I continue to watch and monitor that. It seems pretty apparent that they are preaching more Ks, less homers, and getting more grounders.

The Orioles have seen Chris Tillman emerge as one of the better starters in the AL so far this year. After a subpar 2015 season, he has come on in a big way this year. After out-dueling Verlander tonight, Tillman has seen his ERA drop well below 3. He is averaging over a strikeout per IP and isn’t giving up homers. Again, I expect the homers to go up but he is missing bats, and getting Ks, so while I expect him to give up more runs, if he continues to show better velocity and continue to get those Ks, we may be in store for a career year from Tillman, which would be huge for this team.

The other pitcher that has been impressive is Gausman. I expected him to be the best starter on the staff this year and so far, he is neck and neck with Tillman. Gausman is has a K rate of 8.2, his walk rate is below 2 (Tillman’s is over 3) and his HR rate is solid. The BABIP against him is very low and not sustainable, so that will go up but a sub 3.5 ERA (it stands at 2.16 right now) from Gausman this year is looking very likely. If Tillman and Gausman can continue to be guys that are top of the rotation starters that puts this team on a different level than most of us felt they were IMO.

Turning to the offense, this team is firing on all cylinders. While it is not producing like Boston’s offense is, they are currently tied for 3rd in the AL in runs scored. They are second in OBP, second in slugging, second in wOBA an second in BA (Boston is in first in all of those categories). They lead the AL in homers and are second in WAR. The offense is lead by Machado, who is currently 1st in the AL in WAR, which stands at 2.7. He is probably the early favorite for AL MVP. Manny leads the league in slugging and already has 25 extra base hits in just 34 games. Over the course of a season, that is a pace of 118 extra base hits for the season. To put that into perspective, the year Bonds hit 73 homers, he had a total of 107 xbh. Now, Bonds was getting walked a lot more but still, that is a lot of extra base hits. Last year, Bryce Harper, the NL MVP who had a .649 slugging %, had 81 extra base hits.

But Manny isn’t alone. Mark Trumbo has come over and been great. His OPS has been hovering around 1000 for most of the season. He is hitting 315, well above his career average of 253. Chris Davis is showing his good power and is walking a lot. I don’t feel Davis has even gotten hot yet and he still has an 870 OPS. Adam Jones is finally healthy and is starting to hit. Alvarez, who got off to a terrible start, has shown signs of life as well. The Orioles need Wieters to get going, as his OPS is under 600 despite showing a very approach at the plate to start the year.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see how Showalter handles the DH/CO positions. Kim isn’t playing much but when he does, he has been productive. He has a 1060 OPS and is hitting .478, while carrying a walk rate of 11.5%. Reimold has continued to hit well and currently has an OPS just over 1000. Joey Rickard has faltered since the early part of the season but he is keeping that OPS above 700 and is hitting 280. Schoop hasn’t really gotten hot yet either and he still has a .449 slugging %. I think we are likely to see some guys come down (especially Trumbo) and others go up. This lineup should continue to have balance but the walk rate of 3.3% has got to improve. It would be nice to get some free base runners ahead of all of these big homer guys.

The question is, what does this team need going forward? Well, OF defensive help would be nice. The team is last in the AL in UZR and UZR/150. Yes it is early and its tough to rely on defensive stats, especially in a small sample size but we all see the issues. Even Jones isn’t showing well in those stats yet but after 2 straight years of better defense, I am willing to give him a pass (for now) that some of his issues were related to his injuries. The corner outfield spots are a mess though and I feel that needs to be improved. You would also like to add one more starter. Now, that starter may be Gallardo. While I don’t want to rely on him, the bottom line is if Tillman and Gausman are going to continue to be lights out, having a reliable guy in this rotation, in place of Wilson and/or Wright, will be a big help. Right now, it’s a crapshoot after Gausman and Tillman and, at least for now, Buck seems intent on keeping Worley in the pen. I actually feel the OFer is the more important player to get, especially if it can be a guy who can play good defense and get on base. That is the missing ingredient to this lineup (how nice would Fowler look right now?).

Going back to my original question, how good is this team? Well, I would say they are pretty good. They are clearly one of the best teams in the AL right now. Going forward, the OF defense and the back of the rotation could be issues and we don’t have much to bring up to help in those spots. Duquette needs to be checking in with teams very shortly about making some moves because this is going to be a tight race and you want to have every advantage for as many games as you possibly can. This team can win this division and they can be one of the best teams in the AL but they shouldn’t settle with what they have. They need to add more and go for it.

Oh and extend Machado please?!

Rob Shields
Rob Shields

Rob has interviewed guests from outlets such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, NBC Sports, CBS Sports, FOX Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Athlon, Sporting News, MLB Network, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Info Solutions, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Sports on Earth, Grantland, NFL Network, FanGraphs, Football Outsiders, ProFootballFocus, etc. etc. The Baltimore native lives in Perry Hall with his Wife Lindsay, and two young sons. He has appeared as a guest on 105.7 The Fan, Q1370, and WNST 1570. Co-Host of The Warehouse: Co-Host of Sports Tonight: