Major League Baseball returns from the All-Star break with a full slate of games on Friday.
Baltimore exits the All-Star break with a two-game lead over the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, currently the smallest lead by any division leader in the majors.
Despite Boston’s recent spending spree, and Toronto’s good play entering the break, Buck Showalter and company are still in the driver’s seat in Baltimore.
The Orioles have arguably the best bullpen in the American League, led by All-Star relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton, who leads the AL in saves at 27. Brach (0.91) and Britton (0.72) also combine to make Baltimore the only bullpen in the majors this season with a pair of relievers with a sub-1.00 ERA.
Former All-Star Darren O’Day is on the comeback trail from a hamstring injury that has kept him on the disabled list since early June. He and the Orioles are aiming for him to return to the big leagues very soon, as he was working all throughout the break at Baltimore’s rehab facility in Sarasota, Florida.
That means, if the healing process quickens over the next day or so, he could rejoin the team while they’re still in Tampa.
In terms of starting pitching, the biggest bright spot has been that of Chris Tillman.
Tillman (12-2) is the first O’s pitcher with a record of 10 games over .500 at the All-Star break since 1971, when Mike Cuellar was 13-1. Baltimore went to the World Series that year.
While the rest of the starting rotation has left a lot to be desired, there is hope.
Yovani Gallardo, who battled injury during the first half of the season, should be fully healthy after the break and gets the start on Friday.
Kevin Gausman got one of the lowest amounts of run support in the majors through the O’s first 87 games, so maybe the normally high-powered Baltimore offense can become high powered with Gausman on the mound.
That alone would help the Orioles out in the second half.
One move that Showalter and pitching coach Dave Wallace have already made in terms of the pitching staff is name Dylan Bundy as the starter for Sunday’s game against the Rays. I recently wrote about Bundy potentially getting a spot start or two as the product of a chain reaction to a number of things within the Orioles organization. (link)
Speaking of moves, Dan Duquette and the Orioles need to be buyers at the trade deadline.
Showalter recently told reporters that he believes all the pieces to take his club to the next level this season are in house.
“Help is right here, this group,” the O’s skipper said Sunday. “We are not coveting other people’s players. They don’t want to hear me talk about what somebody is doing in Norfolk or Bowie. They don’t want to hear about some guy [on another team] that we’re interested in. I don’t want them to hear the manager talk about that. I tell Dan [Duquette] to tell me at the 11th hour and we’ll talk about the fit. Every answer we need to have is in here.”
Baltimore fans love Buck, but most would disagree with him on this. The O’s have to make a move.
Boston has made 4 trades in the last nine days; the Red Sox are getting better.
Now’s not the time to be left in the dust over stubbornness. Go out and get a player – a pitcher specifically.
Rounding out the pitching staff, Baltimore has a major decision to make with Ubaldo Jimenez, as well as Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson.
Wilson has been in the rotation for some time now, but he needs to show more consistency.
Wright as gotten opportunities but hasn’t fully taken advantage of them.
Both are good young pitchers. Maybe the second half is where they find their grove.
As for Jimenez, he needs to go. Whether it’s via trade, designation for assignment, or simply cutting ties (at the end of the year), Jimenez’s days in an Orioles uniform have to be numbered.
Offensively, there isn’t too much to say about this club that hasn’t already been said.
The Orioles hit a lot of home runs. And with Camden Yards remaining hot through the end of August, baseball could be flying out of the yard at an all-time rate.
Maybe the only question that surrounds Baltimore’s offense is can Mark Trumbo continue his home run hitting pace, especially after participating in the Home Run Derby on Monday, which hasn’t always been the friendliest event to Orioles hitters after the break.
Baltimore does have a fairly easy start to the second half of the season, playing four teams with losing records over the next 16 days. However, the first seven of those games are on the road in Tampa Bay and New York against the Yankees.
After that, the O’s return home for a three-game series against the top team in the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians.
Gallardo gets the start on the mound tonight for the Birds, Tillman Saturday and Bundy in the series finale on Sunday. It will mark the first start of his pro career.
The MLB trade deadline is August 1, and possibly the biggest question surrounding the Orioles is whether or not they will make a trade.
Only time will tell. Welcome back from the break, baseball fans. Next stop, the postseason.