By Ryan Decker
Every year the first two weeks following Major League Baseball’s All-Star break largely determines what the rest of the season will hold for teams.
A strong start to the second-half and a team can put itself in a good spot to contend for the postseason. However, a bad jump out of the gates post-break, and a team’s focus can quickly shift to next year.
That’s where the Baltimore Orioles (42-46) are.
Currently 7 ½ games out of first place in the AL East, and four games out of the last AL Wild Card Spot (with five teams in front of them), the Orioles aren’t in any position to contend barring a great start to the second-half.
Tough Road Ahead
Baltimore does get the benefit of beginning post-All-Star-break play with nine consecutive games at home, a place where the Orioles are nine games over .500. However, those nine games are against two of the top teams in the majors in the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, with a series against the Texas Rangers in between.
Chicago bolstered its starting rotation Thursday with the addition of Jose Quintana, and Houston has arguably been the best team in baseball to this point in the season.
After the series against the Astros, the Orioles hit the road for three-game sets against the Tampa Bay Rays and the Rangers.
The Rays currently hold the second Wild Card spot.
Timing is Everything
The five series I mentioned take the Orioles right up to the July 31 trade deadline, meaning the next two weeks will largely determine if the O’s are buyers or sellers at the deadline.
Ironically, the Rangers – who Baltimore plays seven games against in the next 17 days – are in the same spot as the Orioles, but are likely in better shape to turn things around.
In Order to be Buyers
If Baltimore is going to be a buyer at the trade deadline, a number of things are going to have to happen.
First off, pitching is going to have to improve. The Orioles rank last in the majors in team ERA (5.07) and have the highest opponent batting average (.279) in baseball.
Struggles on the mound for the O’s have been well documented this year, due in large part to the team tying a 93-year-old record of allowing five-plus runs in 20 consecutive games.
Manny Machado also needs to improve, desperately. Machado struggled at the plate, hitting for just a .230 average and an on-base percentage under .300.
The preseason MVP candidate simply hasn’t been that through the first half.
Those two things alone won’t completely spell a turnaround, but they will go a long way in getting one started.
Baltimore will have to play to at least a 12-4 record over the next two weeks in order to be buyers, and with the schedule it has on the horizon, that doesn’t appear likely.
It’s a Seller’s Market
Truthfully, all the Orioles need to do in order to be hard sellers at the trade deadline is continue doing what they’ve done so far this year.
Despite sitting at four games under .500, the Orioles technically aren’t out of the race for a Wild Card spot, with so many teams in the American League within just a few games of each other.
That can, and likely will, change over the next two weeks.
With the upcoming schedule being what it is, and the team performing how it has to this point, Baltimore will be a seller at the deadline.
Selling may be the ideal situation anyways, considering the Orioles farm system is lacking in depth of quality talent.
The question then becomes how much do they have to offer?
The Orioles front office has proven in the past to set a “king’s ransom” for pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, and it would be a major surprise to see the team part with other key assets, like Machado, Chris Davis or All-Star Jonathan Schoop.
Injuries throughout the roster, some to players that could’ve been traded at the approaching deadline, also limit what the O’s have to offer.
The Orioles are in a tough spot entering the second-half of the regular season.
As bad as Baltimore has looked so far, hovering right around .500 has put the O’s in a middle-of-the-road spot that staying the course makes any trade decision more strenuous than it already is.