Whenever you watch Major League Baseball, you have to remember something important: The season is 162 games.
It’s a battle of attrition.
The Orioles recently won seven in a row and their fans were flying high. Then they lost five in a row – including a four-game sweep in Seattle by the Mariners – and fans started questioning the club’s postseason chances.
And then the Orioles won the final two in Los Angeles against a good Dodgers team to capture the series.
So they went 4-5 on the three-city, West Coast road trip.
That’s not good. But given what happened with the nightmare in Seattle, it could have been a lot worse.
The Orioles return to Baltimore with one weekend series remaining before the All Star Break.
Chances are – unless the struggling Los Angeles Angels deliver a sweep starting Friday – these Orioles, with all their warts, will be leading the American League East heading into the official second half.
The point is you can’t take too much from one road trip or one series. What defines a baseball team is how it rides out the valleys. And the fact that the Orioles bounced back and won two at Chavez Ravine against a good Dodgers club – including surviving a 14-inning rubber match Wednesday – is certainly a good sign.
That said, there were some bad signs these past nine games, too — things that are worrisome going forward.
Here are a few things to take from this illuminating – but not all-telling – road trip.
These Orioles have moxie
It’s become a given under manager Buck Showalter that his teams never feel they are out of it. But Wednesday’s 6-4 victory could easily have been a tent-folder. You could tell how tired this club was and so to go 14 innings on the ninth game of a road trip and win, that makes a statement.
So much that Showalter, who almost never puts a significance on one outcome, admitted to MASN’s Gary Thorne that the fact the Orioles escaped Wednesday’s five hour-26-minute marathon with a win was a “separator.” In other words, it was one of those games that shows what you have as a team and one of those experiences you can draw on as the season goes on.
And those are always good to have.
The rotation is still a mess
Chris Tillman broke out of his three-game funk with a strong performance Tuesday against the Dodgers. And through 18 starts he is 11-2 with a 3.51 ERA. If he continues to pitch that well and get run support, Tillman has a chance to become the first Orioles’ starter to win 20 games since Mike Boddicker in 1984.
But the rest of the rotation?
Combined, without Tillman, the rotation is 17-25 with a disastrous 5.63 ERA.
Kevin Gausman is still learning at this level and he’s going to have good starts and bad starts. But if he continues to have outings where he is throwing nearly 100 pitches in five innings, he’s going to come out early regardless of the score.
Yovani Gallardo and Ubaldo Jimenez are not instilling confidence and there literally isn’t a fifth starter right now with the demotions of Tyler Wilson and Mike Wright.
The Orioles don’t need to trade for one starter. They need two. How they are getting those guys, though, I don’t know.
The bullpen is great, but needs help
The Orioles bullpen threw a complete-game shutout Wednesday, pitching nine innings without giving up a run. But the group did yield eight hits and six walks in that span. Yielding no runs is always impressive, but the Dodgers sure had their chances. And we’ve seen cracks in the bullpen this road trip, no doubt.
The unit will be better when Darren O’Day returns from injury. And having long reliever Vance Worley back has helped. But given how infrequently the starters pitch deep, you almost wonder if the Orioles’ top priority should be adding another effective reliever, perhaps a lefty. Because it’s hard to imagine the club will be able to acquire a top of the rotation starter in a trade this month given the lack of aces available and the Orioles’ limited trade chips.
Bundy is a keeper
After his seven strikeout performance in 2 1/3 innings Wednesday, the cries for Bundy to be put into the rotation only get louder. The Orioles have tried to avoid that temptation because the 23-year-old had logged just 63 innings between 2013 and the start of this year due to injuries.
Thrusting him into the rotation now and jacking up his innings count could further jeopardize his future – and there has to be a balance between needing him presently to fill a starting void and counting on him in the rotation for years to come.
It’s a tricky balance and one the Orioles must consider carefully.
But I will say this: I wouldn’t trade him this month to get a stop-gap, veteran starter. There’s just too much promise there, and I guess I’m skeptical of the quality of pitcher the Orioles could land in July. We’ve seen that movie before.