This is a weekly column that dives into some random thoughts about the Orioles/MLB. I used to do eight as a nod to Cal Ripken Jr. This year, I’ll be cutting it down to four or five, so consider it the Earl Weaver–Brooks Robinson era of Thursday Thoughts. – A.S.
1. While the Orioles have showed some signs of life over the last week, there’s still a resounding feeling of nausea around the fanbase. This isn’t a team anyone expects to go on a run where they win 17 of 20 games. Yet, it’s also a team that sits a mere 4.5 games out of first place in the AL East and just 2.5 out of a Wild Card spot. That’s nothing with three full months of baseball left to play.
Perhaps worse than being a really bad team is being the type of team the Orioles are this season. They are a team sitting in purgatory. They are in a very weird middle ground. It’s why there’s even a discussion as to whether they should be “sellers” or “buyers” at the trade deadline. Granted, many more people fall on the “sellers” side of the fence. But it’s going to be awfully tough, if not impossible, for the O’s to wave a white flag in a month and say they are hitting any form of a reset button if they are within five, six, maybe even seven games of a playoff spot.
Knowing the talent that resides on this roster and the way they fight, there’s little chance they are so far out of it that they can think about selling. Even if they are out of it, there appears to be a slight disillusion in the front office that they are better than they’ve played. Maybe there’s some truth to that, maybe there’s not.
Regardless, this waffling between a very good team and a very bad team is not a great place to be. Especially with the way the franchise is set up in the years to come with certain players (cough, Manny Machado) set to come off the books.
Purgatory isn’t a place the Birds want to hang out in for long.
GulfBird Sports/Craig Landefeld
2. Perhaps the biggest negative to this season thus far has been the performance of Kevin Gausman, but is there a chance he’s starting to turn a corner? The 26-year-old has still yet to turn in an outing of at least six innings since June 6, when he allowed four runs on eight hits and a walk in 6.2 IP. But over his last two outings, things have looked a bit different.
Last week against the hot-hitting Indians, Gausman struck out nine against just two walks over 5.2 IP and gave up three runs. Not even a quality start, but perhaps something to build upon. That strikeout rate, especially, is more what we are accustomed to seeing from Gausman.
Then Tuesday against the Blue Jays, another start of just 5.1 IP, but he gave up only four hits and two walks while allowing no runs. The use of Gausman’s splitter has also jumped a bit over his last few starts. That’s a pitch he needs to be successful. It’s an out pitch, similar to Dylan Bundy’s slider.
If Gausman can be only half as bad in the second half as he’s been awful in the first, the O’s might have a fighting chance with this pitching staff to turn things around.
3. Speaking of the pitching staff, much has been said lately about the job Roger McDowell is doing. Fans are calling for his head, and it even led Buck Showalter to speak out this week. The manager quite predictably backed his coach, despite a pitching staff that has turned in the second-worst ERA in the Majors and the worst batting average against.
Somehow, some of the conversation has turned to praise for the job Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti did while in Baltimore. Last year, the Orioles finished 19th in team ERA in baseball, a full ten spots ahead of where they are right now. But honestly, the pitchers that finished 19th aren’t really any better than the ones that are currently 29th.
It has little to do with the coaching. The pitching staff is virtually unchanged, aside from the departure of Yovani Gallardo and the addition of a few different bullpen arms. The truth is that the Orioles pitching staff simply isn’t good enough. No amount of coaching is going to make it one of the league’s top staffs. Talent is the issue here, not coaching.
That’s not to say McDowell is off the hook. I just don’t think half a season is enough time to realize any kind of influence and whether or not it’s making a difference.
4. This is going to sound silly, but perhaps it’s a telling sign of how the Orioles’ season is going when you look at who the All-Star starters will be this season. Newsflash – none of them will be Orioles. It’ll be the first time since 2012 that the O’s haven’t had a starter in the Midsummer Classic. It might be the first time since 2011 that only one player gets the call to go to the game.
It’s not like any of this year’s candidates are in 2010 Ty Wigginton territory, where they are only going because each team needs a representative. Jonathan Schoop and Welington Castillo would both be worthy representatives based on the season’s they’ve put forward. Even rookie Trey Mancini getting the nod would be completely justifiable.
Frankly, if Manny Machado or Adam Jones got the call on reputation alone, it wouldn’t surprise me either.
But it’s telling that fans and media alike can’t simply pencil in two or three players from this roster that are sure bets to make the team. In the last five years, there have been at least two or three players on each team that everyone knew was heading to the game. That’s not the case this year. The Birds may only get one player, and no one knows who it will be.
To me, that’s a sign that things aren’t going all that well. It’s a sign that no one has stepped up and led this team.
Some have merely helped to keep it afloat through some tough times.