The Baltimore Orioles Offense: More Boom Than Bust

Prepare yourself for an unpopular opinion – there is a difference between a well-pitched game and a low-scoring game contested by two bad offenses. Not every quality start is a gem, thanks to the current state of offense in Major League Baseball.

On the same night the defending World Series champions eked out seven total bases in a 19 inning game, the Baltimore Orioles slugged six home runs. The following afternoon, they hit another three bombs. After a fallow period of one day, the O’s got back on the bats, hitting three MORE home runs Monday night, fueling yet another win for the first place team in the American League East.

Over the past seven days, the Orioles hit SEVENTEEN home runs. That is more than the rest of the AL East combined in that stretch, more than 11 teams can claim in the second half. It is this power surge that keeps them afloat and in front. It is this suddenly rich mine of home run power that helps them overcome/offset an otherwise underwhelming squad from top to bottom.

While we all stare at their lineup and wonder how they manage to remain first in a deeply-flawed division, the O’s look like a club that zigged while the rest of baseball zagged. Always a team built to score runs, they simply struggled to get all their pistons firing in sequence – until now.

Mike Petriello noted a month ago that the Orioles lineup is a weird mix of underperformers and out of nowhere stories. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis are the only players to look like “themselves” for the balance of the season. Many of their regulars are well off their career offensive marks, with wild swings in production. As a group, they only managed an 82 wRC+ in June. Since then, bombs away. Here in early August, they boast the best offense in the game, crushing 21 home runs, which drives their 139 wRC+.

A half-month arbitrary split is insignificant bordering on dubious, but all those runs count and the wins in the standings do, too. They’re winning these games on the back of surprising performance by players who either struggled early or were not counted on to produce much of anything in the first place. The Orioles stubbornly remain at the top of the division, despite an underwhelming collection of names (and no-names) and a pitching staff that doesn’t exactly strike fear in the hearts of opponents.

Chris Davis is having an awful time in 2014, struggling to make anywhere near enough contact to utilize his prodigious power. That said, he has four home runs this week. He has 14 hits in the last 30 days, six of which left the park. Caleb Joseph turned from a replacement-level backup catcher with great numbers in his second go-around at double-A to….a replacement-level backup catcher who also managed to hit a home run in five consecutive games.

J.J. Hardy knocked out two homers Saturday after managing just four over the season’s first four months. Manny Machado emerged from his post-injury struggles to post great numbers (before falling to injury again.)

Watching Baltimore dismantle the Cardinals this past weekend was a delight. Not only did the barrage of home runs electrify the home crowd, it was a welcome respite from the underwhelming action around the league most nights. Not all 4-2 games are created equally. If the games are going to be long, they could at least be exciting.

For the O’s, It isn’t about the sustainability of this flurry of home runs, it’s about the ability to build bridges all the way to the post-season. Ride the offense for a while as the pitching staff treads water. The Orioles are working hard to ensure a healthy rotation in October, should they get there. If they win more games than they lose in the dog days of August by turning them into slugfests, so be it. Given the stout bullpen and superlative defense (and Buck Showalter’s legendary management of said group), playing low-scoring games might suit them just fine.

The kind of talent the Orioles have on board lends itself to a boom and bust cycle just like this. That talent doesn’t endear itself to our projection models so well, as the O’s forecast to score and allow a nearly identical amount of runs over the season’s remaining 44 games (4.41 for, 4.40 against).

Even going .500 for the rest of the season is more than enough for the O’s to glide into the playoffs in the AL East. Not only is it the style of team they built – crafted in loving memory of patron saint, Earl Weaver – but it takes great advantage of their home ballpark and doesn’t come at the expense of their aforementioned defense, a key plank in their surprising run prevention.

The lineup isn’t pretty, as many of the names regularly penciled in illicit eye-rolling as much as awe. And forecasts reflect this, as ZiPS and Steamer combine to roll their eyes at the Orioles. But here they are, owners of the biggest division lead in the game and the fifth-best playoff odds in the game.

While their AL rivals pursued starting pitching, the Orioles added another deadly bullpen arm. They’re an enigma with a soft schedule from here on out. It’s starting to matter less and less if they can keep it up, as “it” is getting too late to matter if it’s real or not.

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Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF

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