After winning 96 games and a division title last year, a .500 finish for the 2015 Orioles would surely be seen as extremely disappointing by players and fans alike, not to mention team management.
A .500 record will not be good enough. But while we have all been focusing on an offense that recently is underperforming, there may be a bigger issue holding this team back.
But first ... since you have heard this theory 1,000 times, let’s make it 1,001. The Orioles didn’t do enough this offseason; they didn’t re-sign Nick Markakis and Nelson Cruz, and now look at the offense.
That is an interesting theory, it is just not a correct one. You can compare the 2014 Orioles offense to this year’s team, and they are very close. Now most recently the Orioles haven’t scored much, and let’s not even re-visit the runners in scoring position stats recently.
But the 2014 Orioles averaged 4.35 runs per game and 1.30 homers per game, and this team averages 4.40 runs per game and 1.25 homers. Almost no difference.
2014 Orioles: .256 batting average, .311 OBP, .422 slugging, .734 OPS.
2015 Orioles: .255 batting average, .310 OBP, .422 slugging, .732 OPS.
Despite the recent lack of clutch hits, the 2014 Orioles hit .268 with runners in scoring position and the 2015 team is batting .290 with RISP.
You could say the Orioles offense is wildly inconsistent, but you would not be accurate to say it’s bad. The same players struggling to score right now produced 5.6 runs per game in April and 5.3 in June.
Now let’s talk about where there has been a falloff and a true concern for the second-half. It’s the pitching and more specifically the starting pitching.
The 2014 Orioles ranked third in the league in ERA at 3.43 and fifth in rotation ERA at 3.61. Now the Orioles are sixth in ERA at 3.74 and 10th in rotation ERA at 4.20.
From fifth to 10th in starting pitcher ERA and the starters are covering fewer innings. Last year they averaged 5.88 innings per start, and that is down to 5.67 now.
We know Chris Tillman and Bud Norris have struggled and now Miguel Gonzalez has pitched to an ERA of 7.53 his last four starts. While we have been focusing so much on the offense, the Orioles rotation has not been up to par. In 19 of the last 34 games, O’s starters have pitched fewer than six innings.
With the current rotation ERA of 4.20 compared to 3.61 last year, I would think the Orioles have a good chance to make the playoffs if the final figure is around 3.75 or lower. If that number stays in the range it is now, a .500 finish and missing the playoffs could be the result.
It is almost always about the pitching and so it is for the 2015 Orioles, even at a time when the focus has been on the offense.