Daniel Clark: O’s winning despite struggling offense

As the first week of August nears its end, the Orioles have found themselves in a position that hasn’t been seen all that often since returning to their winning ways in 2012.

During the successful seasons of 2012 and 2013, the O’s offense was rarely the No. 1 cause for concern, as that worry typically focused on inconsistent starting pitching. Powerful lineups in each of those two seasons - led by the likes of Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy - ensured O’s fans could expect to see enough runs produced to win games, providing the pitching came through on its end of the deal.

The 2014 season started in similar fashion and up until four weeks ago, the O’s were averaging 4.42 runs per game through the first 90 games of the season. At that point in time, Nick Markakis, Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce and Jones were all hitting either over .300 or close to it and as seen in the two years prior, the key to winning was finding reliable, consistent starting pitching.

In the four weeks since, though - commencing on July 10 with a 4-3 win over the Nationals - the roles were reversed in stunning fashion and it was the offense being bailed out by somewhat uncharacteristically brilliant efforts on the mound. During the four-week period, the O’s still managed to win 15 of 22 games, but did so averaging just 3.45 runs per game - a 22-percent reduction in offensive productivity. Furthermore, had it not been for the offensive improvement seen in the past two nights, that figure would have been even less at just 3.00 runs per game.

Further analysis highlights that during the 22-game stretch, the O’s scored more than four runs on just four occasions, which includes the two this week, and in eight of the 22 games the O’s scored two runs or less. That’s a concerning 36 percent of games in which the O’s relied upon their pitching staff to restrict quality opponents to just a single run in order to get the win.

A closer look at the individuals who have seen their respective batting averages drop considerably during this period highlights the following:

* Nelson Cruz - .292 to .260
* Steve Pearce - .318 to .289
* Adam Jones - .305 to .285
* Chris Davis - .205 to .196

While the improvement from the starting pitching has been a pleasant surprise, the current hitting slumps being experienced by power-hitters Cruz (9-for-80) and Davis (10-for-64) in particular are cause for concern.

Holding onto a season-high five-game lead on top of the American League East standings with just 50 games to go, the rest of August presents the O’s with a golden opportunity to put some serious distance between themselves and their division rivals.

After this current series against the Blue Jays finishes tomorrow, the O’s face the Cardinals, Yankees, Indians, White Sox, Cubs, Rays and Twins to finish off the month, all of which are series the O’s would fancy themselves winning. Should the offensive production return during this 23-game stretch, the O’s could well be enjoying a comfortable buffer between themselves and their chasers heading into the final month of the regular season.

There’s no doubt that the improvement seen in the last two games is encouraging, but it will take more than two games to convince me that the offensive slump has truly been broken. Davis’ bomb to right and Cruz’s seeing-eye single last night are sure to lift spirits both individually and from a team perspective. So hopefully that boost now translates into a return to form for two of the O’s most dangerous weapons.

What are your thoughts on the offensive struggles? Do you expect Cruz and Davis to turn their form around in the coming weeks?

Daniel Clark blogs about the Orioles at The Big Leagues Daily from Melbourne, Australia. Follow him on Twitter: @DC_TBLDaily. His thoughts on the O’s appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.

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