The Baltimore Orioles and their fan base came into the 2019 season knowing that the Birds wouldn’t be contending for a playoff spot this season. There was a bit of excitement around the rebuilding club, but any expectations for success this season would have been completely irrational.
The Orioles sit at 27-62 at the All-Star break, good for the worst record in baseball despite winning three of their last four before the break. They are 30.5 games out of first place in the American League East and 23.5 games out of the Wild Card race. As far as the expectations were concerned, this team is delivering exactly what we thought they would.
The bad has been obvious. Chris Davis starting the season without a hit until April 13 has to be at the top of the list. The once renowned slugger is mired in another dismal season, hitting .189 with seven dingers and 22 RBI on the year.
Alex Cobb‘s tenure in Baltimore continues to be one big flop as he is 0-2 on the season with a 10.95 ERA in three starts. He gave up nine home runs in 12.1 innings before learning that significant injuries would cost him the rest of the season.
Cobb has started 31 games as an Orioles and has pitched to a 5.36 ERA, nearly two full runs higher than his career ERA with Tampa. He is winless at Camden Yards.
The fundamentals have been laughably bad at times. Throwing to the wrong base, missing the cutoff man, dropping pop-ups, running into outs on the basepaths, and Hanser Alberto‘s worst play of all time highlight the shenanigans:
There have, however, been some pleasant surprises with the 2019 club. Who could have predicted Alberto would be sixth in the American League in batting average, hitting .309 at the break? How about leading the league with a .412 average off of left-handed pitching? Admit it, you didn’t even know who Alberto was before the season. Neither did I.
Anyone have Andrew Cashner ranking tied for eighth in the American League with nine wins at the All-Star Break? Didn’t think so. What about John Means becoming the Orioles All-Star representative, going 7-4 with a 2.50 ERA in the first half of 2019? That ERA would rank Means fifth in the MLB if he had met the innings requirement. He’s just six and a third innings shy of meeting that mark.
How about the power numbers from Renato Nunez? He currently has 20 homers, ranking him in a tie for 10th place in the AL. Nunez joins Boog Powell and Manny Machado as Orioles hitters below the age of 25 with 20+ dingers at the All-Star break. Quite elite company for a guy claimed off waivers in May of 2018.
With the first half in the rear-view mirror, let’s look at some second half storylines to follow.
1) Who is moved at the trade deadline?
The Orioles should be active at the July 31 deadline. They have some desirable players that could help contenders either reach the playoffs via the Wild Card or fortify their chances for a division championship.
Cashner figures to be a top target. To go along with his nine wins, Cashner has an ERA of 3.83 and a WHIP of 1.1 in arguably the best hitting division in baseball. One thing to watch for in the Cashner department is his innings pitched. Cashner’s deal currently holds a 2020 team option that becomes $10M guaranteed if he eclipses 340 innings pitched over the last two seasons. Cashner sits at 249.1 innings through the break. I’d still expect Cashner to be dealt for some mid-level prospects.
Nunez could be another player that is on the move. He is under team control through the 2020 season and would be arbitration-eligible each of the three years after that. Contenders are often looking for an extra boost in power around deadline time and the pop that Nunez presents likely makes him a hot commodity. He does tend to hit bombs in bunches which could be perceived as a good thing or a bad thing.
Other players that could get moved include Mychal Givens (not sure why he has value personally), Dylan Bundy, Alberto, and perhaps the Orioles best player Trey Mancini. Givens is 1-4 with a 4.76 ERA but has a live arm that can be desirable at the deadline. Bundy has pitched better this season after having previously been considered a potential top of the rotation guy. He could net a nice return for the Orioles if a team thinks they can “fix” him.
Alberto we have discussed. Mancini remains the most polarizing potential trade bait. He is having an All-Star caliber season, hitting .291 with 17 home runs and 40 RBI. He’s 27-years-old and in his third full major league season. He is arbitration l-eligible starting next season and wouldn’t be a free agent until 2023.
Is he a cornerstone piece for when this team competes again in a few years? If so, the slam dunk opinion is to extend him long term to keep him in Baltimore. Or should the Orioles look to strike while the iron is hot and deal Mancini? This is the biggest story to monitor in the second half.
2) Who comes up?
In the second half of the season, there are definitely some players that could/should/will be called up that will have a long-term impact on the Orioles organization.
The first name that I am looking forward to seeing in Baltimore at some point is Ryan Mountcastle. The 22-year-old positionless minor leaguer is RAKING at AAA Norfolk, posting a .307 average with 15 homers and 51 RBI in 80 games with the Tides. He should be here sooner rather than later, but due to MLB’s service time rules don’t be surprised if Mountcastle doesn’t reach the big leagues until 2020.
I’d also expect to see DJ Stewart return to the big club after a rehab assignment here in early July. Stewart posted a .318 average with eight homers and 36 RBI for the Tides before getting called up on May 28. In seven games with the Orioles he only hit .167 but he is a player that should be given a more extended look to see how he factors in next season and beyond.
Austin Hays (hitting .236 over 144 at-bats) and Cedric Mullins (.183 over 332 at-bats) have both had rough years overall but the two outfielders could find themselves back with the big club. As far as pitchers to watch for, Norfolk’s group is lacking but Keegan Akin (4.44 ERA) could get a September callup.
Expect the rest of the recalled pitchers to be bullpen arms in the September call-ups.
3) Who backs up their big first halves?
89 games does not make a season in the majors. Several Orioles had monster first halves as highlighted above. I am intrigued to see which of them can back that up in the second half of the season.
Means is the most important to watch for me in the second half. While I am not expecting a duplicate performance from the 26-year-old lefty, it would be nice to see him follow up his stellar first half with an MLB quality second half. If his ERA at the end of the year is less than 3.50, I’d walk away encouraged that he could be a rotation piece for years to come.
Mancini (if he is here) is another good storyline to watch in the second half. If the Orioles are looking to see him back up his big first half with a strong second half before offering him a contract extension, it would behoove Trey to deliver 10-15 more homers and 35-50 more RBI. That would put him around 30 home runs and 80-90 RBI on the campaign, both career highs.
Another player who’s second half I am interested in monitoring is Chance Sisco. He returned to the Majors on June 5 and has hit .283 with six homers and 17 RBI over 60 at-bats. Sisco, once thought to be the catcher of the future, could go a long way in securing that job for the next few years with a big second half. We all know Adley Rutschman was the first overall pick in the draft, but Sisco continuing to play well gives the Orioles flexibility in the position moving forward.
Image Credit: Press Box Baltimore