The AL East had a pretty tidy storyline heading into the season. The Yanks, Sox, and Rays are perhaps the three best teams in the AL, and they were set to do battle and eliminate at least one from playoff qualification. The other two teams, the Orioles and Blue Jays, didn’t factor much into anyone’s accounting of the division, and for good reason. Even outside the AL East neither figured to field a contending team.
While the Blue Jays went into full-blown rebuilding mode this winter when they traded Roy Halladay, the Orioles have been busy acquiring young players for almost three years now. While there was little chance they’d pull an 08 Rays and surprise everyone, they still presented a compelling story. Savvy franchise builder Andy MacPhail took the reigns from over-involved owner Peter Angelos and gave O’s fans hope. It’s only a matter of time before the AL East features four powerhouses.
Even though no one expected the Orioles to finish even third in the division, it was a pretty reasonable projection for them to place fourth, ahead of the Blue Jays. Yet in the early goings the Orioles have been, by far, the worst team in the majors. They picked up just their third win of the season yesterday, and even that took them 10 innings, and a nearly blown lead, to accomplish. On Monday morning the team found itself at 3-16, 4.5 games behind the next worst teams in the league, the Royals and the Pirates, both at 7-11.
When examining what Baltimore has done so far, a few things stand out as aberrant. First, the production they’ve gotten from first base. When MLB Trade Rumors asked front office executives about the worst off-season signings, many answered Garrett Atkins. He’s proven them right, posting a .239 wOBA in 61 PA. He should start to see reduced playing time now that John Rhyne Hughes has joined the team. While he might not rank among the league’s best first baseman, he’ll present a significant upgrade over Atkins’s production. It’s difficult not to.
The middle infield has also caused Baltimore offensive issues this season. Brian Roberts remains on the DL, which hurts right off the bat. His first replacement, Julio Lugo, has been worse than Atkins, though in fewer than half the number of plate appearances. Still, his .137 wOBA will keep him on the bench while manager Dave Trembley runs with Ty Wigginton‘s hot bat. It’s an offense for defense sacrifice, but the sacrifice works the other way for shortstop. Cesar Izturis is there for his glovework, but his bat has been below even the low standard he’s set for himself.
In the outfield and at DH the Orioles also have a few underperformers. Adam Jones tops the list. He’s clearly better than his current .263 wOBA indicates, and many of his woes stem from a .242 BABIP, perhaps further due to his drawing only one walk in 87 PA. He’s been swinging and missing at many pitches out of the zone while laying off pitches inside it, so it sounds like something that should even out in the next few weeks. He’s shown that he’s an excellent hitter, but even good hitters can find themselves in nasty slumps.
After off-season surgery to repair his Achilles’ tendon, Nolan Reimold has spent plenty of time at DH to start the season. But with Felix Pie out for at least a couple of months Reimold has a chance to step up and be the every day left fielder. He’s started slowly, just a .287 wOBA to this point, but he’s another guy who has shown that he can hit better than that. Maybe his recent move to the leadoff spot will help. That means Luke Scott continues taking the majority of his at-bats at DH. He continues the theme of slow offensive starts, just a .293 wOBA at this point.
While Wigginton will certainly fall a bit from his lofty numbers, the Orioles can expect rebounds from a number of their offensive contributors. In addition to increased production all-around from Jones, Scott, and Reimold, the Orioles could further benefit when Matt Wieters finds his power stroke. While he’s hit well so far it has been mostly singles. His ISO sits at .074, a number he’s probably capable of doubling this season. Add to that the return of Brian Roberts, and the Orioles offense could be in decent shape at this point next month.
On the pitching side they’ve posted a few crooked numbers, and once they start to even out things should be just fine. Brad Bergesen will try to find his rhythm in AAA, and in the meantime his replacement will almost certainly allow fewer than 14 earned runs (20 in total) in his first 10.1 innings. Mike Gonzalez is through blowing saves for the time being, leaving a hole in the bullpen. Matt Albers has been pretty bad in his 8.2 innings so far, and got absolutely trashed over the weekend against Boston. The bullpen just isn’t going to be a strength on this team.
Will the Orioles make a huge turnaround and flirt with a .500 season? At this point it’s out of the question. It’s still early, but even a very good team will find it difficult to emerge from a 3-16 hole. Their Pythag record bodes a bit better, but even then that’s 6-13, about 51 wins in a full season. I still don’t think that their true talent is this bad. Once their better offensive players star to hit to their potentials they’ll close that run differential. Maybe they’ll even go on a run after they fire Trembley. For now, though, it’s just another rebuilding season in Baltimore.