The Orioles Can Still Get Better
For a team that started the season 8-0 and has been sitting at or near the top of the AL East all season, the Baltimore Orioles haven't captured the love of the betting markets. They're 3-1 odds to win the division lag behind favored Boston. The Orioles' 7-1 odds to take the American League pennant trail both Boston and Texas. And Baltimore sits at a nice 18-1 to win the World Series. The good news if you're an Oriole backer? There's reason to think this team can still play better.
Only two Baltimore regulars are having truly outstanding years thus far. Third baseman Manny Machado has an on-base percentage of .379, a slugging percentage of .605 and dazzling defensive skills that include putting in time at shortstop. Machado is joined by outfielder Mark Trumbo, with his .350 on-base percentage and a .593 slugging percentage.
As good as those numbers are, there's no reason to think they can't continue. Machado is firmly on a par with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as the best young players in baseball and he's well-positioned to win the American League MVP award. Trumbo was a terrific power hitter in Arizona and playing in Camden Yards has proven to be the perfect tonic for his career.
Moreover, Baltimore has good hitters who haven't really rounded into form yet. Adam Jones is the most notable. The All-Star centerfielder is struggling with a .295 OBP and .395 slugging percentage. While Jones' OBP numbers have never been great, he's usually in the range of .330 and up. And power has been his offensive calling card, with slugging percentages usually in the high .400s. The slow start has been underscored by the fact Jones only has seven home runs. That's after five straight years where he averaged 29 per season.
So to simply get to his career norms, Jones is due for a solid hot streak. We can also look at first baseman Chris Davis, with his .341/.440 numbers and say that his career tells us he'll at least keep doing that and almost certainly will find a higher level. Matt Wieters isn't quite as sure a bet, as recent injury problems have slowed what was becoming an All-Star career. But at .319/.424, Wieters isn't going to do much worse, he's likely to do better and he has the motivation of this being a contract year.
Therefore, the Baltimore offense - already pretty good - has a high likelihood of getting better. What about the pitching?
Chris Tillman has a 3.33 ERA in eleven starts. That's a significant improvement off last year, but more in line with his career norms. Tillman's struggles in 2015 were the aberration, not the steady pitching of 2016.
The rest of the rotation has been problematic. Ubaldo Jiminez has been a disaster and has to pitch better, if only on the grounds he can't pitch much worse. Kevin Gausman, a live young arm has a 3.78 ERA in eight starts. He wasn't in the regular rotation when the season began, so this is another area of improvement.
But the most important part of the rotation is just about to get healthy. Yovani Gallardo made four starts and then went on the DL. He's expected back in this early part of June. Gallardo, you may recall was the #2 starter for the Texas Rangers last year, with a 3.42 ERA on a full load of 33 starts. The Rangers won the AL West. So we know a team can win its division with Gallardo as their #2 arm, something highly pertinent to this year's Baltimore Orioles.
Baltimore's situation can be summed up thusly - the players who have carried them thus far - primarily Machado, Trumbo, Tillman and a bullpen that is again deep and strong for the fifth straight year - can all be expected to continue their strong showings, based on career track records. There are other players - most notably Jones and Gallardo where the track records suggest improvement. This, for a team that's already running neck-and-neck atop its division and whose record is among the best in the American League overall. That makes the Orioles a worthwhile prospect for investment.
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