For Orioles fans, the start to this season may be a blessing. A relatively easy schedule in April allowed the O’s to start the season off well. May brought 2 series with the Yankees and our first sighting of the defending World Series Champs. These two teams alone have caused O’s fans enough grief in the past few years but there is a new team to contend with in the A.L. East…The Tampa Bay Rays. The youthful Rays have jumped out to one of the best records in baseball and are showing no sign of slowing down. They did this even without staff ace Scott Kazmir for an extended period of time to start the season.
The O’s have a paltry 3-8 record against the Rays so far this season. Overall, the team stands 26-25 after taking the first of a three game set against the Yanks. The O’s have cleaned up against two of the weaker teams in the AL, Seattle and Kansas City. They are 6-1 against the Mariners and 3-1 against the Royals. The O’s have not seen the Twins, Tigers or Indians yet, all three of which could/should be contending for a division crown when they finally do meet up with Baltimore.
Other teams that the O’s have struggled against include the White Sox (2-3), Angels (1-3), Rangers (1-2) and A’s (0-3). Luckily, Baltimore has visited all four AL West teams before the end of May, leaving only 3 game sets in Seattle and Anaheim remaining on the schedule as far as trips out west.
Inside of the AL East, the O’s have posted a 5-3 mark against the Yanks and 2-0 against the Red Sox. With another game against NY tonight and 4 against Boston this weekend, we shall find out if these intial winning records will hold up over the course of the brutal 18 game season series each team must play inside of their own division. Another team lost in the shuffle, a half game ahead of the O’s, has been the Blue Jays. For a division rival, O’s fans may become sick of the seeing the pitching rich boys from up north as these teams will meet 16 times in the final four months of the season. The teams stand 1-1 against each other so far.
The always interesting interleague schedule has allowed another year of home and home series with the Nationals. The Orioles went 2-1 against the Nats in Baltimore. The Pirates and Astros will visit Camden Yards in June while the Orioles will travel to Milwaukee, Chicago and then Washington to finish this year’s interleague schedule. With two series against the Nats, the O’s will miss the Reds and Cardinals on the schedule from the NL Central. Thank goodness because the Cards have been playing good ball through two months and the Reds have shown signs of turning it around, especially with heralded prospect Jay Bruce in the Majors now.
June has the look of a pesky month of games, as the O’s will see the Red Sox 6 times. But, with the soft interleague schedule and visits to Minnesota and Toronto next week, wins are out there to get for these young guys. If the Orioles can get to the all star break within 5 games of the divison leader or wild card leader (looking to be Boston and/or Tampa Bay right now), this team will have a chance to refresh and get ready for a strong second half push.
That leads me to my 5 questions for June as the Orioles hit the 1/3 mark on this season.
1) How will Daniel Cabrera hold up?
Arguably pitching as well as he has over an extended period of time at any point in his career, the question of which Cabrera will the team get has been a relatively quiet one so far this season. The man who has led the league in walks the past two seasons has pitched well and leads the team in innings pitched and has the only complete game for the Orioles. My guess is we see a little bit more of the wild Daniel next month but I still believe he has the stuff to win games at the big league level. He’s 5-1 right now, heading into Friday’s start against Beckett and the Red Sox. The Sox are a team Cabrera has struggled with in the past and this game should give a good indication of where he’s at. Their patience at the plate can cause Cabrera to begin the walk parades but hopefully he will give us a strong, quality start Friday…something he’s been doing rather consistently so far this season.
2) Will the bullpen continue to make last year’s team look like a Triple-A team?
Aside from Bradford and Walker, this year’s bullpen had it’s extreme makeover in the offseason and looks dazzling because of it. New closer George Sherrill has put up great numbers thus far, with only a few bad performances. He is second in the league in saves and has been great in clutch situations (tie games as well). The future debate is already on the horizon when Chris Ray gets back next season as to which of these guys deserves to close. As much as a I like Ray, for now my answer will Sherrill. I like a lefty closer for some reason better anyways. Jim Johnson, Dennis Sarfate and Lance Cormier have given the team wonderful perfomances in their roles thus far. Johnson has been a stud since coming up from the minors while Sarfate’s ability to blow the ball by a batter is something this bullpen would be lacking without him.
3) When will the team just give up on Steve Trachsel?
Really, its not that hard to figure out. He’s an older pitcher who has problems going more than 5 innings. This kind of pitcher doesn’t last in the AL, no matter what he did in the first half of last season. He needs to be cut or sent down immediately, but the problem is who replaces him? Garrett Olson has already come up to replace Adam Loewen (by the way, I still have no idea when he’ll be back, sound familiar?). The depth of the O’s minor league pitching is not at the Triple A level, to say the least. One in-house replacement that has made two solid starts already this season is Matt Albers. He was one of those fighting for the 5th starting job in the Spring and has shown an ability to get batters out as a starter. To me, you would take you best long man out of the bullpen but you would be giving yourself a much better chance to win every fifth day. Seriously, starting Trachsel is almost like telling the offense they have to score at least 6-10 runs and the bullpen that we’re going to need you for 4-5 innings.
4) Will anyone start hitting for a decent average?
This is another issue that the team is having to deal with, one I didn’t believe would be a factor with Roberts and Markakis on the roster. But through 51 games, the team’s leading hitter is….Brian Roberts. No surprise but look at his team-leading average….262! Wow, that’s sad enough. Begs to question how we are even over .500 right now but I won’t dissect that too much. Adam Jones is second with a .253 average while Markakis is hitting .250. While I do believe that Roberts and Markakis will both finish the season close to .300, these poor two months have not helped the O’s when it comes to scoring runs. Nick is striking out remarkably more than last season but his OBP is slighty better. That is due to more patience at the plate, leading to more walks. This is something the team has worked on under Crowley and Trembley and it seems to be working. Markakis’ power numbers other than homers are down and he’s on pace to have many less RBI’s on a better team than last year.
5) How are we 26-25 with all of the problems mentioned above and the ones I didn’t even touch on?
Really, the answer is I don’t know. I can’t figure it out myself. We’re doing much better in 1 run games and it seems to relate to the improved bullpen (wow, what a shocker). The starters (Burres, Guthrie, Cabrera and now Olson) have kept the scores low to where a struggling offense can win close games. These four have been fantastic for the most part this year. With good health and continue improvement under first year pitching coach Rick Kranitz, there’s no reason one of these guys can’t legitmitely win 15-18 games. For the offense, it’s simple. Get on base, get clutch hits and hopefully have some power to go along with it.
I will be blogging after the O’s Yanks game tonight. Going for a sweep, should be an interesting test with staff ace Jeremie Guthrie going against O’s nemesis Andy Pettitte.