I’m no meteorologist, but it’s getting hot in Baltimore. I don’t need my car thermometer, which hit triple digits on Wednesday afternoon, to convince me. All I have to do is look at the balls flying out of Camden Yards.
After a slow start to the season, the Orioles’ power bats have started producing in a big way. In April, the O’s hit just 16 home runs, ranking 25th in Major League Baseball. Last April, they belted twice that total. The Orioles offense just finished June with a major league-leading 46 (13 more than any club) and now rank second in the league in longballs behind only the Toronto Blue Jays. They’ve homered in 12 straight games, going 8-4 in those contests, and now have six consecutive multi-home run games.
In their past six contests, the Orioles have hit 15 home runs (2.5 per game). Not coincidentally, they’ve scored 36 runs (six per game) over that span. Of those 36 runs, 24 of them have reached home plate on a home run. In other words, the longball has accounted for 67 percent of the Orioles’ total runs scored over the past five games. Talk about being dependent on the longball.
Home runs are obviously important to every team, but they may be even more meaningful in Baltimore. The O’s have a 39-21 record when hitting at least one home run, compared to a 6-18 record when not homering. While leading the league in longballs in June, the Orioles won 16 games and lost just 12.
Is relying on home runs sustainable? With 212 home runs last season, the Orioles led all 30 clubs in that category by a margin of 24. However, the top two finishers in the home run category last season (Orioles and Mariners) failed to make the postseason (though half of the top 10 home run slugging teams played games in October). When the Birds’ home run total dipped in July 2013 (27 homers, 10th in MLB), they posted their first below-.500 month of the season.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the offense is that three players (Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones and Chris Davis) have accounted for over half of the Orioles home run total (55 of 105). Should one of those three cool off or get injured, the O’s would lose a substantial portion of their run production.
While the Orioles home run bats have helped them win eight of their last 12 games, but coming into Wednesday night, the O’s had struggled with runners in scoring position, hitting just .130 (3-for-23) with RISP in their previous three games. That stat admittedly can be. Last season, the Cardinals led the league with a ridiculous .330/.402/.463 slashline with runners in scoring position. This year, they’ve cooled off to .243/.328/.344.
If there’s one stat that remains consistent throughout the years for winning teams, it’s on-base percentage. Last season, seven of the top 10 teams in OBP made the postseason. While the Orioles finished far ahead of everyone else in homers in 2013, they ranked 19th in OBP.
Wednesday night’s victory was the perfect example of how the Orioles should utilize a more well-rounded offensive approach. Down 4-1 in the sixth inning, the O’s used three walks, a sacrifice fly and two singles to tie the game. Then in the seventh, Ryan Flaherty used a solo shot to give Baltimore the lead.
“Pitching, defense and the three-run homer” has long been the mantra of Orioles baseball, but a patient approach is what led to those big hits in the championship seasons in 1966, 1970 and 1983. In 1966, five of the O’s starting nine had OBP’s of .311 or higher, seven of nine in 1970 and seven of nine in 1983. Getting on base makes the home run an even more powerful weapon.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.