As the season’s second half – the post-All-Star break portion of the schedule – begins tonight in Baltimore, the Orioles resume play at 54-35. They are two games behind Tampa Bay for the American League East lead and hold the No. 1 AL wild card spot, leading by five games for that over Houston and Toronto.
Their win percentage of .607 projects to 98 wins over a full season and is their eighth-best win percentage all-time at the All-Star break.
Here are a few questions that will be answered in the second half:
What will the trade deadline look like for the club?
Well, one guess is that the Orioles will be rumored to have their hand in several potential deals. But the Orioles hold some nice cards here. For one, they have the No. 1 farm in the game and several top 100 prospects at higher levels that are already in the majors, are major league-ready or are close. These are the types of players that are coveted around the sport. The Orioles are loaded in what you could call “prospect capital.”
They also have a lower payroll and certainly are able to take on some salary if it comes to that. Their first choice might be to acquire talent, likely pitching, that can not only help this year but for a year or more to come. To get a player with some team control, they might need both that capital and the dollars to spend.
Mike Elias has been open here, saying the Orioles will be buyers. But it takes two teams to make a deal and there could be fewer sellers than buyers over the next few weeks. It will be a fascinating to find out which deals the O’s could be involved in, which young players they would be willing to part with and how far they are willing to go at the deadline.
Can the O’s catch the Rays?
This answer for much of the first half was probably “doubtful.” Now it’s been upgraded to “well, maybe.”
Birdland should happily take that.
The Rays started 13-0, 20-3 and 27-6. They were smashing teams and seemingly running away with the division. After those first 13 games the Orioles were six games behind. But they were just 4 1/2 games behind when the Rays were 20-3, as they were 15-7. They were still just 4 1/2 behind when Tampa Bay was 27-6 on May 5. They were 22-10.
But as recently as the Fourth of July, they were six back. But while the Orioles recently had a 1-6 stretch the Rays went 0-7 before winning Sunday. Had Tampa Bay not ended their losing streak then, the lead would be one game over the Orioles, and Baltimore would have been ahead in the loss column.
Head to head, the Orioles are 3-2 versus Tampa Bay. The clubs have eight games remaining against each other. They play a four-game series soon out of the break, July 20-23 at the Trop, and the clubs will play four more times starting Sept. 14 in Baltimore.
Since their 27-6 start, the Rays are 31-29. Since they were 28 games over the .500 mark on June 9, Tampa Bay is 11-16.
So yes, they can be caught. The Orioles have not won an AL East title since 2014, but maybe surprisingly so, one is now within reach.
Is the rotation for real now?
While the Orioles' rotation ERA of 4.48 for the season ranks only 10th best in the American League, the rotation has been much better for about a month now. Since June 9, the O's starter ERA is 3.67. That mark would rank third-best in the AL.
The O’s hit the break with five straight quality starts and a rotation ERA of 1.67 in that five-game win streak. They have gotten seven quality starts over the last nine games, leading to a 2.28 ERA. The starters allowed just five runs in three games at Minnesota.
They are trending up, and if that trend can hold it would be huge for this club. It would mean fewer innings needed from the bullpen, including the sometimes shaky middle relief.
The Orioles now have 34 quality starts on the year, and are 25-9 (.735) when they get one. At one point they were about 10th in the league in that stat, but this recent run of good pitching has them tied for sixth with 34 QS. And the best news is that the have 16 in the past 27 games.
The starters have taken a big turn for the better. If they can keep it up, or something close, Birdland could be in for a lot more fun in the second half.