Orioles must change offensive approach to end losing ways

The Baltimore Orioles (17-41) enter the week of Jun. 4 with the worst record in the Majors. Losers of seven straight games, the 2018 season is already over. Now over two months into the season, Orioles ownership faces a cloud of uncertainty with the contracts of both general manger Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter expiring after the season. That’s not a good situation for a team like the Orioles who sit 22.5 games out of first place in the American League East.

Whether Duquette sticks around or leaves town following the 2018 season, the Orioles’ offensive approach needs to change in order for the team to find success again. Since Duquette arrived in Baltimore, the Orioles have relied on lineups full of power bats to carry the team via the long ball. From 2012-17, the Orioles finished in the top 3 in home runs, and they led the major leagues in 2013, 2014, and 2016. Also in that time span, Baltimore finished within the top 10 in strikeouts three times. So far this season, the Orioles rank fifth in strikeouts (523) and 14’th in home runs (65). They’re also 27’th in walks taken (159), 27’th in average (.230) and 29’th in both on-base percentage (OBP) (.293) & runs scored (210).

While these stats span just over two months total, it’s not hard to figure out that these numbers do not point to a successful offense. While ranking 14’th in home runs still puts the Orioles in the middle of the pack, they’re not scoring enough runs, not getting on base enough, and they’re striking out at an alarming rate.

Currently, only four regular starters in the Orioles lineup – Manny Machado, Adam Jones, Trey Mancini, and Mark Trumbo – own OBP’s above .300. This means that over half of Baltimore’s lineup is failing to reach base in seven-of-10 at-bats. Guys like Jones and Trumbo have done all they can to carry the offense, but even they carry free-swinging power bats who will see large strikeout totals when the 2018 season comes to a close.

Easily, the biggest disappointment for the Orioles dates back to the 2016 offseason, and that’s Chris Davis. Since signing a seven-year, $161 million deal in the winter preceding the 2016 season, Davis has hit an alarming .196 with 68 home runs and 487 strikeouts. Things seem to be hitting rock-bottom this season with Davis hitting .152 with just four home runs. Davis has hit at least 21 home runs in seven of 11 seasons, but he’s on pace to finish 2018 with 12 home runs (and about 219 strikeouts).

One factor playing into the declining offensive numbers has to be age. The Orioles are a veteran-heavy team with Jones, Davis, and Trumbo all at the age of 32. Pedro Alvarez, who’s been playing fairly often in the DH spot, is 31. Jonathan Schoop and Mancini are both 26, and Machado turns 26 on Jul. 6. When Davis, Jones, and Trumbo were in their late 20’s, relying on the home run got the Orioles by. Now, a lot of these guys are well above 30 and have started to decline. None of them will admit to it, but the Orioles are a veteran team in need of a turnover that includes plenty of youth.

This should not come as a surprise, but the Red Sox (40-19), Yankees (37-17), Astros (37-23), and Braves (34-24) are the highest scorers of the 2018 season to date. Boston, Atlanta and Houston make up the top three teams in hits while the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros hold the top three spots in RBI. Meanwhile, the Rangers (25-36), Padres (26-34), Giants (28-30) and Orioles make up four of the top five teams in strikeouts this season, with third-place Philadelphia (31-25) being an exception. The stats don’t lie. Teams that hit consistently, score runs and play small ball see success more often than not. Home runs will only get you so far, and strikeouts are the killer.

The scary part about this situation is that the Orioles’ front office appears to be very naive to the issue with no real drive to change the offensive approach. Despite a plethora of designated hitter, power bat types already on the roster (in the forms of Davis, Trumbo and Alvarez), Duquette recently expressed interest in 34-year-old free agent Hanley Ramirez. Duquette has prior experience with Ramirez from his tenure with the Red Sox, but signing a 34-year-old power bat to a team that should be selling makes no sense. With a 17-41 record and a lineup full of aging, undisciplined batters, comments like these from Duquette are extremely concerning.

Another frustrating practice the Orioles implement is neglecting their farm system of international talent. In May, Ben Badler of Baseball America wrote a story highlighting Baltimore ownership’s refusal to spend money in the international market. As Badler wrote in the piece, Duquette’s input only goes so far since the decisions on talent are ultimately made by the Angelos family. The decision to not dip into the international market not only limits the scouting the Orioles can do, but the return the team gets for sending off their international pool money amounts to almost nothing.

The struggles of the 2018 Orioles must not all fall on the offense. The pitching has not been perfect either, with the starting rotation sporting a 5.43 ERA and a bullpen that’s dealt with several injuries. However, since defeating the Red Sox 7-4 on May 18, the Orioles scored three runs or fewer in 13 of their last 14 games, going 3-11 in that span. Even if Dylan Bundy or another Orioles starting pitcher delivers a quality start, the chances of the Orioles’ offense providing just three runs have not been good as of late.

With just under two months remaining before the 2018 MLB trade deadline, there’s still time for Duquette and Orioles’ ownership to make some moves to better the club beyond 2018. All aspects of the club could use some work, but the offense appears to be the biggest issue plaguing the team. The scary reality Orioles fans are faced with is that the team’s ownership has been extremely reluctant to make any sort of changes to the way they construct their team, and no recent events point to that pattern changing. The reliance on the home run worked for a few seasons, but it’s time to change the offensive approach. Until the Orioles do that, the team’s losing ways will continue indefinitely.

Image Credit: Beyond the Box Score

 

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Orioles extend losing streak to five after getting swept in Houston

The Orioles entered their second series of the 2018 season with a lot to correct but they ended up getting swept by the defending world champion Houston Astros, extending their losing streak to five.

Game 1 (6-1 HOU): After failing to score a run off of a starting pitcher in their opening series against Minnesota, the Orioles stumbled into Houston and embarrassed themselves on national television. The Astros home opener was full of festivities including the unveiling of a world series banner, but the fun didn’t stop there as the home team proceeded to put on a show for their fans.

Chris Tillman took the mound for the O’s and clearly didn’t have the command needed to retire a lineup of this caliber. To Tillman’s credit, he was able to work his way out of a couple jams in the first two innings. Going into the third, Tillman was still a ticking time bomb but the 29-year-old starter managed to instill a false sense of security by retiring Jose Altuve, J.D. Davis, and Josh Reddick on just eight pitches. Considering the environment and the back-to-back lead off doubles he surrendered in the first, Tillman had handled things pretty well. That was great for about 10 minutes and then things got ugly.

The Astros scored three runs in the fourth, exposing Tillman who had pitched a decent three innings despite not having his best stuff. Marwin Gonzalez got the big inning started with a lead off homer. Derek Fisher and George Springer followed that up with an RBI triple and single respectively to give the Astros a more comfortable lead.

With the Orioles bats still ice cold, that four run lead felt more like ten. Unlike this past weekend, there were certainly opportunities for the O’s to score runs and potential come back. Good patience in the second inning resulted in a two out bases loaded situation for the birds, but Caleb Joseph was not able to bring anyone home after lining out to first base.

A solo home run by Trey Mancini in the ninth ended the shutout but that would be the lone highlight for the Orioles in a night full of frustration.

Game 2 (10-6 HOU): Coming off of Monday night’s disappointing performance there was not a lot to be exited about. When you looked at the pitching matchup, things got even more grim. With Alex Cobb still working his way through an extended spring training stint, the Orioles turned to Mike Wright for an early season spot start. Wright had not started a game for the O’s since 2016 and proved to be unreliable in his relief efforts as well. Shaky pitchers are nothing new for the Orioles but with Justin Verlander getting the start for the Astros, there was a clear disadvantage on paper.

However, in true baseball fashion, Wright gave the Orioles a good chance to win by only surrendering three runs in five innings of work. The offense woke up in game two as well with the O’s only finding themselves down by one run at the time of Wrights exit.

The teams continued to trade runs as both managers dipped into their bullpen but a five run seventh inning would end up being the difference maker for the Astros as they picked up a 10-6 win.

A handful of Orioles batters had a great night at the plate that they hope will jump start their season in terms of offense. Jonathan Schoop and Adam Jones both went 3-5 and combined to drive in four of the O’s six runs.

Runs were coming at much more of a premium for both teams resulting in a tight contest from start to finish. The Orioles struck first with a run in the first inning thanks to a miss play by Astros second baseman Jose Altuve. The 2017 MVP lost the ball in the sun and allowed Adam Jones to get on base with what should have been a routine out.

The Orioles had to scrap for their second run of the game as well. In the fourth inning the O’s had runners on first and second with Craig gentry coming to the plate. The outfielder proceeded to ground into what looked like an inning ending double play but made up for it by flashing his speed to beat out the relay throw. The lead runner, Danny Valencia, used this opportunity to round third and make a break for home plate, catching the Astros off guard once again.

Houston would tie the game up again in the sixth by getting their second run off of Bundy and then took their first lead the following inning with an RBI single. Miguel Castro entered the game after Bundy for his fourth inning of work this season. The 23-year-old reliever got two quick outs but walked Derek Fisher, who put himself in scoring position with a steal. Alex Bergman brought Fisher home with an RBI single and that would end up being all the offense necessary for the Astros to complete the sweep.

Up Next: Things won’t get any easier for the Orioles as the prepare to face the New York Yankees in a four game series this weekend. This will be the Orioles first look at the new Yankees lineup that features even more power hitters than last year. Certainly not the easiest team to face when you’re looking to correct some pitching issues.

Image credit: Bob Levey / Getty Images

Series Preview: Orioles look to spoil Astros World Series celebration

HOUSTON — The 2018 MLB season is in full swing and the Baltimore Orioles are off to a somewhat concerning start. Even though we are only three games into the season and using this first series as a projection of the O’s entire campaign is absurd, we can still look at the immediate road ahead and be worried.

To start, the Orioles have one of the toughest April schedules in the league. The defending world champion Astros are up next but the rest of the month is filled with division opponents like the Yankees and Red Sox as well as the perennial contending Cleveland Indians. Combine this with the fact that the O’s only have one off day this month and there was a reason to be cautious even before the players took the field.

The Orioles schedule is one thing but their production on the field holds more weight. So far the Orioles have experienced a lot of the ups and downs of a 162 game season in the span of one weekend. Opening day featured an excellent pitchers duel with Dylan Bundy tossing seven strong innings of work. The bullpen had trouble closing the door in the ninth, but for the third straight year the home crowd got an early taste of Orioles magic as Adam Jones launched a walk off home run to give the birds a 3-2 victory.

The rest of the series was not as exciting for the home team. The Orioles lineup managed to record just six hits and two runs between Saturday and Sunday. I’m not trying to sound like captain obvious but you can’t win if you don’t score runs. With that being said, the pitching didn’t fare any better. Andrew Cashner struggled in his Orioles debut, giving up five runs (four earned) in five innings of work. Kevin Gausman took the mound for Sunday’s rubber match and surrendered four runs in the first inning before making an early exit in the fourth.

It wasn’t the best start to the year for the birds but we already know the road ahead will be even more unforgiving. The Houston Astros will host the Orioles this week for their home opener. Monday night’s game will surely be an electric environment as the Astros prepare to receive their world series rings and unveil a championship banner for their home crowd.

To make things worse, the O’s will be entering this series with the back end of their starting rotation which has a lot of question marks surrounding it. Chris Tillman will look to start his bounce back year on Monday and Mike Wright will get the nod on Tuesday as Alex Cobb continues to work his way through an extended spring training.

Unlike the Orioles, Houston was able to flex their muscle this past weekend. The Astros took a four game series from the Texas Rangers 3-1 while outscoring them 22-11. Reigning American League MVP, Jose Altuve led the way on offense with nine hits and five runs while the starting rotation gave up just six runs and collected 30 strikeouts as a group.

Game Times and Pitching Matchups:

Game 1: Monday, April 2, 7:00 pm – Chris Tillman (2017: 1-7, 7.84 ERA) vs Charlie Morton (2017: 14-7, 3.62 ERA) – MASN, ESPN, 105.7 The Fan

Game 2: Tuesday, April 3, 8:10 pm – Mike Wright (2017: 0-0, 5.76 ERA) vs Justin Verlander (1-0, 0.00 ERA) – MASN, 105.7 The Fan

Game 3: Wednesday, April 4, 2:10 pm – Dylan Bundy (1-0, 0.00 ERA) vs Dallas Keuchel (0-1, 4.50 ERA) – MASN 2, 105.7 The Fan

Image Credit: Elsa/Getty Images