Over the next two weeks, the Baltimore Orioles will take on the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Philadelphia Phillies. The combined record of those teams is 100-117. While the Orioles themselves sit at just 24-29 and only a game ahead of the last place Red Sox in the American League East, this crucial stretch of very winnable games could vault them back to the top of their weak division.
After scoring 112 runs in only 20 games in the month of April, the Orioles offense slumped to only 95 runs in 29 May games. On the season, the Orioles have been held to two runs or less 20 times. They are 1-19 in those games. A propensity to strikeout, as well as a continued dependence on the home run to push men across the plate has helped grind the Orioles’ offense to a halt. All-Star catcher Matt Wieters returns tonight as the Orioles kick off this stretch of games in Cleveland. Caleb Joseph held his own in April, but May was a different story, as Joseph’s batting averaged went south quickly. If Wieters can replicate the type of start he had in 2014 before surgery, the offense will get a huge boost.
The slumping offense should also be salivating at the chance to face the Indians, Red Sox, and Phillies. Combined, these three teams have an ERA of 4.15. That would rank 23rd in baseball. The Orioles also have the good fortune of avoiding Corey Kluber, who has struck out 59 in his last five starts. The Orioles have also already battered the Red Sox pitching staff to the tune of 42 runs in only seven games this season, by far their highest offensive output against any one opponent.
Pitching has not been the problem for the Orioles this season. The 4.31 starter ERA is inflated by poor showings by Chris Tillman and Bud Norris. Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Wei Yin Chen, and Mike Wright have been better than advertised, and Kevin Gausman is waiting in the wings. If Tillman turns his season around, the Orioles can still have one of the better pitching staffs in baseball. Only the middle relief has struggled in the bullpen, but that’s an easily addressable problem at the trade deadline should the Orioles still be in contention.
There has been much hand wringing over the offensive production of the Baltimore Orioles, and this is the team’s chance to try and get right. The schedule gods have presented the Orioles a chance to go on a nice little run and right the direction of their season with a stretch of good play the next two weeks. The Yankees, who the Orioles have played to a virtual tie this season, sit only four-and-a-half games ahead of the Orioles right now, and do not appear poised to run away with the division in any way. Taking a series from the Yankees here would also be big for momentum.
By no means, do I think the Orioles are out of the picture in the American League East. Each team in the division has their flaws, including the Orioles. I do think, however, that the Orioles’ flaws are easily addressable. Keep in mind that they have played most of the season without their All-Star catcher, All-Star shortstop, and budding star second baseman. Their chances to win the East are not diminished by a poor month of May. Don’t forget that the team was six-and-a-half games out of first place on June 6 last season. It only takes one winning stretch for the Orioles to right the 2015 season, and the next two weeks are a perfect opportunity for the Baltimore Orioles to do just that.