The Orioles played their 81st game Sunday – the statistical midpoint of their 2017 season.
They won 7-1, to avoid a sweep by division rival Tampa Bay Rays and to improve to 40-41 on the season. They now have seven games on the road at Milwaukee and Minnesota before the All-Star Break, the midpoint of the regular schedule.
The record overall isn’t good, of course. These Orioles, who won 89 in 2016, should be a better club at this point in the year, especially after starting the season 22-10.
But these Orioles have also dealt with plenty of injuries to key players, including starter Chris Tillman, closer Zach Britton, first baseman Chris Davis and shortstop J.J. Hardy.
Tillman’s pitching again, he says he’s not dealing with any shoulder discomfort and has shown some positive steps recently. Britton (forearm) will throw one more rehab assignment Monday (at Frederick; the weather forecast at Triple-A Norfolk didn’t look good) and will be activated in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Davis (oblique) threw Sunday, will begin to ramp up baseball activities and is targeting the first day after the All-Star Break for his return. Hardy isn’t close to returning yet from wrist and rib injuries.
“We’ll try to look at it as half full,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said about getting some of his injured players back.
We’ll all have plenty of time to debate whether being around .500 should give the organization hope that it can make the playoffs or whether it should partially blow up the roster and be sellers.
But, for today, let’s concentrate on this: It’s not that important that the Orioles won Sunday – 40-41 or 39-42 at the 81-game mark is basically the same thing.
It’s how they won Sunday. Or, better, who led them to the win.
Kevin Gausman was supposed to be the ace of this staff. Sunday, he looked the part, allowing two walks and two hits while striking out nine in seven shutout innings. It was his best performance of the year – and he’s now strung together 12 1/3 scoreless innings in his past two starts. He’s starting to look like the pitcher that dominated for much of the second half of 2016.
“You got to have that (confidence) first. Feel like I’m throwing the ball well right now and just got to keep it going,” Gausman said. “Like you said, I had a great second half last year, so obviously looking forward to that and knowing I’m the type of guy that gets better as the season goes on. That’s always good.”
What’s great for the Orioles is that while Gausman was dealing, third baseman Manny Machado delivered the big blow Sunday: a three-run homer in the third. It was his 16th of the season and he now has 41 RBIs, solid numbers for half a year. But he is still just batting .217. The Orioles need Machado to be the run producer – and pure hitter — they expect.
“Manny is a big guy for us, and defensively, offensively seems like everything kind of clicks with him,” Gausman said. “Just good to see him kind of have a good day and put some struggles behind him. You know, hopefully we can carry that into Milwaukee.”
The Orioles need Gausman and Machado to play to their potential. If that happens, coupled with the return of some healthy bodies, the Orioles have a chance to remain competitive, at the least. And perhaps more. Otherwise, around .500 will be the likely scenario, and that serves little purpose in 2017 for these Orioles.
For now, however, half a season is done; the Orioles are 40-41 with 81 play.
Not good in a snapshot, but given what the team has battled through, maybe it’s a season worth saving.
The play of Gausman and Machado going forward should help answer that most important question.