Orioles win series in Toronto, but finish first half without a sweep - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Paul Folkemer

Orioles win series in Toronto, but finish first half without a sweep

For an Orioles team that’s bringing up the rear of the major league standings, a series win is nothing to complain about.

A series sweep, though, will have to wait a bit longer.

The Orioles, after taking the first two games against the Blue Jays in Toronto over the weekend, were denied a sweep with a 6-1 loss on Sunday, their final game before the All-Star break.

It marks just the fourth time in Orioles history that the club entered the All-Star break without sweeping a series of two games or more. The 1955, 1988 and 1991 teams — each of whom finished their season with 95 or more losses — also accomplished the dubious feat.

Last year’s Orioles, the worst club in franchise history, didn’t have any three-game sweeps in the first half, but did sweep a two-gamer against the New York Mets from June 5-6. Their only three-game sweep of the season occurred late in the year, August 27-29, against the Blue Jays in Baltimore.

So far this year, the Orioles have rarely put themselves in position to sweep. Only three times have they won the first two games of a series. In the previous two cases — in Toronto on April 3, and at home against Cleveland on June 30 — they dropped the finale, as they did on Sunday.

With the loss, the Orioles head into the break with a 27-62 record, two games behind the next-worst major league team, the Kansas City Royals (30-61). They are, however, three games better than the 2018 Orioles were at the same 89-game mark (24-65). Last year’s club played 97 games before the All-Star break, going 28-69 in the first half en route to a 115-loss season.

It might not be much comfort to Orioles fans that this year’s squad has an incrementally better record than last year’s historically awful team. Still, the club has shown signs of life in the past 10 days, winning two of its last three series of the first half. It’s not much, but in a season where wins are hard to come by, the Orioles will take every one they can get.

Cashner’s bounceback season continues

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The Orioles’ final win of the first half, an 8-1 thrashing of the Blue Jays on Saturday, featured another stellar performance from Andrew Cashner. The veteran pitcher stymied Toronto for seven innings, giving up just one run and three hits.

Cashner has pitched brilliantly since June. He’s thrown five consecutive quality starts, going 3-1 with a 1.41 ERA. Opposing batters are hitting only .168 with a .423 OPS against him.

Cashner’s overall numbers are solid. He finished the first half with a 9-3 record and 3.83 ERA, and across the board, his stats have improved over last year. He’s averaging nearly half a baserunner less per inning — cutting his WHIP from 1.582 to 1.194 — and has also slashed his hit rate (from 10.4 to 8.0), HR rate (1.5 to 1.0) and walk rate (3.8 to 2.7) while raising his strikeout rate from 5.8 to 6.2.

Perhaps most impressively, the Orioles have a winning record when Cashner starts, at 11-6. No other Baltimore starter can boast that claim, not even All-Star John Means. (The Orioles have a 6-8 record in Means’ starts.) Cashner has helped give the overworked bullpen a reprieve. He’s worked five or more innings in all but two of his 17 starts.

The 32-year-old is eligible for free agency after the season, unless he pitches 187 innings this year, in which case his $10 million team option for 2020 automatically vests. Cashner has never thrown 187 innings in a season, and he’s currently on pace for 175.

Naturally, trade speculation has swirled around Cashner. When the season began, he wasn’t seen as one of the Orioles’ most valuable trade chips. His forgettable 2018 campaign included a 4-15 record and a career-worst 5.29 ERA, and he was still owed $8 million for the 2019 season. Any trade, it seemed, would essentially be a contract dump, with the Orioles possibly having to pick up part of his salary while getting only a marginal prospect in return.

Cashner’s 2019 renaissance, though, has changed the narrative. The right-hander now looks like a legitimate trade target who might appeal to pitching-hungry contenders at the July 31 deadline.

With plenty of clubs still in the running for the postseason — 20 of 30 are within five games of a playoff spot — it could be a seller’s market, and Cashner is one of the more intriguing veteran starters who’s clearly on the block. He’s not the caliber of San Francisco’s Madison Bumgarner or Toronto’s Marcus Stroman, who will likely attract the most attention from trade suitors, but he’s a solid second-tier option.

A trade of Cashner, one of the Orioles’ most reliable starters, would further weaken the club’s already thin pitching depth. But if Mike Elias can land a noteworthy prospect for him, it’s a move the Orioles might need to make.

Davis makes a contribution

The ongoing question of Chris Davis’ future with the Orioles has loomed over the club all season. Coming off his disastrous 2018 season, in which he set an MLB record for the lowest average (.168) by a qualified hitter, Davis has spent extended stretches of 2019 in a similarly hopeless funk. And with top prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who’s primarily a first baseman, pounding on the door for a big league promotion, the Orioles are nearing a tipping point with Davis, who is in the fourth season of a seven-year, $161 million deal.

Occasionally, though, Davis has shown signs of life at the plate this year, delaying any consideration the Orioles may have of parting ways with their longtime slugger.

Davis excelled in Toronto over the weekend, starting on Friday and Sunday and reaching base five times in eight plate appearances. His hits included a home run and a double. He’s now homered twice in four games in July after going homerless in June, and he has hits in seven of his last eight games. Davis lifted his average to .189, his highest mark since May 17, and his OPS to .606, his best since May 21.

It’s not the first time Davis has run off a hot stretch of games. From April 13 — the day he snapped his MLB-record 0-for-54 hitless drought — through May 12, Davis batted .290 with a .952 OPS, homering five times in 21 games. That was followed, though, by another month of futility. Davis hit .116 with a .332 OPS and 37 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances from May 15 to June 19.

The overall season numbers, of course, are still a severe disappointment for the highest-paid player in Orioles history. Davis has lost playing time under Brandon Hyde this year, getting benched against most left-handed starters, and he doesn’t figure to be part of the rebuilding Orioles’ future plans, even if his contract is unmovable.

As long as Davis remains in Baltimore, though, the Orioles will gladly accept any contributions he can give. For the moment, he’s trending up.

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