A.L. East: Baltimore Orioles Breakdown
The American League East is one of the more balanced divisions, from a competitive perspective, and one of the more imbalanced ones as far as the way they go about their business. Two of the five teams (Rays and Yanks) struggle on offense while four of the five have pitching staffs with varying degrees of need of an upgrade at the deadline. There isn't a rotation in this division that scares you when they come to town, with the debatable exception of the Blue Jays, and most of the rotations prove to be a nightmare to their own fans most nights. The Toronto Blue Jays do rank tenth in baseball in Team ERA and while Marcus Stroman has room to improve after a slow start, Aaron Sanchez has room for regression and the current plan is to eventually move him to the bullpen. The Blue Jays have an intriguing bullpen while the Red Sox pen is killing them. The Yankees and Orioles pitching is filthy once they remove their starters and the Rays, well, with all of their other issues the bullpen is hardly a place to spend much time.
The questions are many with this division. Can the Blue Jays starting rotation continue to pitch like they have? Is Zach Britton the best closer in baseball and is Darren O'Day the best set up man in the business? Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, both in the division, make an overwhelming case against O'Day, but even Aroldis Chapman might admit that Britton is the beast of the East in 2016. Can the Red Sox continue to mash their way to being competitive and then buy their way out of their pitching woes with their loaded farm system and long purse strings? The Yankees are struggling to pitch and the offense is struggling to produce and getting older by the day, so the proper question surrounding the Evil Empire might be when do they sell and who goes? Do they sell with an eye towards 2017 or is 2018 and beyond the more realistic plan? And then there is the Rays.
1st place in A.L. East - Record 47-31
8th in A.L. in Team ERA (4.25)
4th Worst Starters ERA (4.95)
3rd in Bullpen ERA in all of baseball (3.11)
5th in Bullpen innings pitched in A.L. (263.2)
1st in A.L. in Home Runs (125)
2nd in A.L. in Runs Scored (403)
The Orioles lead the American League in home runs (125) and OPS (.805), they have the third best bullpen ERA (3.11) in baseball while throwing the fifth most innings (263.2 innings pitched) of any American league bullpen and they have the fourth worst starters Era (4.95) in the A.L. They have only stolen 12 bases, which is exactly half of the next least fleet of foot team in the A.L (Seattle Mariners) and they have been caught eight times.
I could be extremely snarky here, but lets just say that running ain't the O's game. Its pretty clear how the Orioles have maneuvered their way through the A.L. East gauntlet to the top spot. They slug the seams off the ball, walk very slowly around the bases and rush their starters out of the game so their pen can save it. The question is, can this continue? Can a team homer and relieve their way to a division title and then a world series trophy?
Chris Davis has been Chris Davis and Adam Jones has slugged more than his fair share of home runs, but he has been a little disappointing with his .317 On-Base Percentage while Manny Machado has been the star that we know he is with the added value of sliding over to play some shortstop while J.J. Hardy was out with an injury.
However, Mark Trumbo has been where this team has gotten more production than it ever could have expected and if you were to award an MVP in July he probably edges out Machado only because O's fans shouldn't have expected him to tie for the American League lead in Home Runs while batting .282 with a career high .331 OBP.
The Orioles could use an upgrade in left field and a more reliable slugger than the split of Pedro Alvarez (who has struggled mightily) and Nolan Reimold and whatever other bat they throw at Designated Hitter any given night wouldn't be a bad thing, but offense isn't their issue. Piling on more offense, since pitching will be difficult to find and almost impossible for them to afford, might be a way for this team to get better in a feasible manner.
Surprises at the trade deadline that would make sense and could be manageable would be a one year slugger like Jay Bruce (who also has a $13 million club option for 2017) or Ryan Braun (4 years and $76 million or 5 years and $92 million remaining on his contract). Trading for either player seems unlikely, but if the Orioles wanted to invest in the future as well as the now, both make sense and are within the realm of possibility considering all factors. Bruce should be a popular bat that is likely to be rumored to a lot of teams while Braun's contract makes him a unique option for a small group of select teams and unlikely to be traded out of Milwaukee.
The Orioles don't have much of a farm system to pay for an upgrade in the rotation and an addition in the bullpen wouldn't seem to be where an upgrade would provide the most bang for their asset buck. Adding another flame thrower to eat more outs in the middle innings so that the Orioles can continue to limit the starters innings and to mask their shortcomings is feasible or a situational lefty will probably happen at the deadline, but don't expect one of the big ticket relievers to be heading to Baltimore.
Tinkering around the fringes and playing musical chairs with the 24th and 25th spots on their roster and trusting one of the best Managers in the game (Buck Showalter) to maximize a deeper bench is likely the way this team finishes the A.L. East race. In a division with more pitching or a few more well rounded teams I would bet against the O's finishing first, but as the rosters are currently constituted it is difficult to find a good reason to seriously doubt them.
As long as the rest of the East teams don't make significant upgrades to their rotations, and it will be extremely difficult and expensive for them to do so, Darren O'Day returns healthy and effective, and Mark Trumbo doesn't fall off a cliff, then the Orioles have to be the favorite for the A.L. Eastern crown. Looking at their current rotation makes this difficult to stomach if your a Blue Jays or Red Sox fan, but their fans should look in the mirror and not throw stones.