As the halfway mark of the 2023 MLB season drifts away in the rearview mirror, there is a growing sense of unease in Baltimore. The plucky young Orioles have been one of the most entertaining stories of the first half, competing against far better resourced powerhouses in the stacked AL East. A little over a week ago, the team was riding high on the back of a 10-3 win against an in-form Cincinnati Reds team. The O’s had improved to a season-high 19 games over .500 (48-29), sitting second in the division and within in the striking distance of the continuingly impressive Tampa Bay Rays.
How things have changed, since…
Two lacklustre performances to round-out the home series against the Reds followed, before the offense fell asleep against the Minnesota Twins. A late flurry in Game 3 saved an embarrassing sweep at home, before the woes returned at Yankee Stadium last night. They’ve now lost five of their last six and still have six tricky games to navigate before the All-Star break. To say they’re limping towards the break is an understatement.
Anyone watching the Orioles this season would agree, the abundance of talented young hitters is as good as any in baseball. Adley Rutschman (.798 OPS) and Gunnar Henderson (.786 OPS) continue to highlight why the franchise needs to build around them going forward, whilst the likes of Jordan Westburg, Kyle Stowers and Joey Ortiz will all be better for the exposure they’re received to date, despite some struggles. Austin Hays (.843 OPS), Ryan O’Hearn (.852 OPS), Anthony Santander (.809 OPS) and Cedric Mullins (.773 OPS) have all provided good support and are right in their prime aged between 27-29. Add in veteran Aaron Hicks (.838 OPS) who has resurged his career away from the ‘boos’ in New York, and the soon-to-return Ryan Mountcastle who is still just 26-years-old, and it’s clear to see why the offense has enough firepower to compete with the best.
Then comes the pitching…
The Orioles’ front office copped some heat during winter, after failing to bolster the pitching staff to a level that ensures the explosive offense doesn’t go wasted. The staunch backers of General Manager Mike Elias (myself being one of them), jumped to his defense, noting that now it not the time for big spending, with the team’s “window” still a few years away – just wait until Jackson Holliday, Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad arrive! Through the first few months, the offense covered over some pretty enormous cracks, however as the bats now start to cool down, these undeniable and foreseen weaknesses are exposed.
I’m going to be frank here – there are at least five guys on the 40-man Roster (or Injured List) who are simply not good enough to pitch in the Major Leagues. They are:
- Cole Irvin
- Austin Voth
- Keegan Akin
- Bruce Zimmermann
- Logan Gillaspie
Seeing these guys take the mound takes years off my life. While I hate being pessimistic, each time they pitch I fire off a tweet saying the game is about to be blown, only to be proven right within five or ten painful minutes. The predictability of their inability is seemingly obvious to everyone watching except Manager Brandon Hyde – and it’s absolutely infuriating.
I’ve stopped short of adding Dean Kremer to this list because he shows glimpses of potential, while Grayson Rodriguez (23) and DL Hall (24) get an exemption because of their age and inexperience. Rodriguez, however, has never really impressed me and as I’ve said numerous times before, I feel he’s going to end up joining a long list of highly-touted Orioles pitching prospects who struggled to find consistency in Baltimore, before flourishing elsewhere – think Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Kevin Gausman, etc.
In addition to the names above, the inconsistency of relievers Mike Baumann, Danny Coulombe and Cionel Perez is truly baffling. On any given night their stuff is filthy and as good as any reliver in baseball, yet on others they simply implode. Trust is the most important tool in a Manger’s toolkit and I can’t help but wonder if Brandon Hyde’s patience is wearing thin? But what other options does he have?
With so many weaknesses and inconsistent offerings on the one pitching staff, it’s actually quite amazing to see the Orioles are so well placed at 49-34. That’s how good the offense has been. Their ability to come-from-behind rivals any other team in baseball. I do fear the next five games, though, are going to see that record slip even further, and a 50-39 record at the break wouldn’t surprise me at this stage. The team looks tired, especially the relivers who have had to put in far too much work to date. While I did predict (in February) this team would win between 81-84 games this season, because of the concerning pitching staff it entered with, seeing them fall to 50-39 at the break would be bitterly disappointing and would force many to reconsider their trade deadline plans – including Mike Elias.
The elite farm is obviously stacked and remains the best of all 30 MLB organizations. There are, quite literally, too many highly touted prospects to count with my ten fingers and the Orioles have an opportunity to make some moves to open that “window” a year or two earlier than planned. Nine of the organization’s Top 10 prospects are bats, with just DL Hall (ranked 8th) the sole pitcher. Many are destined for success, however some will find it hard to crack into a star-studded lineup in years to come. It’s nice to say this – there is an over-supply of young talent.
With this in mind, I feel now is the time to bite the bullet and replenish the pitching staff – specifically, the rotation. I wasn’t this way inclined in February, however I also didn’t expect to see the team with 50 wins at the break (despite what looks like entering in a slump). Opportunities like this in the American League don’t come around often and the title race is wide open. Adding some rotation strength is all this team needs to go deep into the postseason. The offense has proven it can score enough runs to win and the pending return of Mountcastle will strengthen it further. The bullpen has the best set-up man in baseball (Yennier Cano) and the best closer (Felix Bautista), while the likes of Baumann, Coulombe and Perez would all benefit from the increased rest a strengthened rotation would bring.
If the Orioles are serious about capitalizing on the incredible young talent within the organization, now is the time to act. The strength of their first half has opened the “window” earlier than planned and this opportunity cannot be wasted. The 2023/24 offseason is sure to bring with it some bigger spending (yes, even for the Angelos family), however why wait until then to have a shot at a dream that has eluded an entire generation of Orioles fans starved of success?