Baltimore Orioles: Contenders or Pretenders?

As stated recently in a previous post about the surprising Washington Nationals, the MLB provides us with several surprises year-in and year-out.

This season, there have not only been surprises in the NL East, but also in the AL East, as another one of the biggest shockers has come from the lowly Baltimore Orioles of recent years. The team got off to a great start, and has not quickly faded like many experts predicted.

As you can see from the division standings above, Baltimore has dropped below the surging Yankees but still has respectable leads over the other three teams of the division.

But can they stay in the race through September?

Pitching Staff Better, But Thin

Camden Yards has been home to a team that has been pretty capable offensively in recent years, but the pitching could never hold up their end of the bargain. In 2012, a few names on their staff have stepped up and picked up some of that slack.

Their starters have been headlined by Jason Hammel (7-2, 2.87 ERA) and Wei-Yin Chen (6-2, 3.62 ERA). Not to mention, they’ve gotten superb performances from a few arms in their bullpen, which is anchored by closer Jim Johnson (19 SV, 1.62 ERA).

Johnson has finally found his role in the O’s bullpen, though he’s been there since 2008. Photo courtesy Nick Laham via Getty Images

While the O’s finally being able to bring in a few very good arms has been encouraging for the organization, the fact of the matter is that they just aren’t very deep in the rotation. Their number 3 through 5 starting pitchers have  4.94, 5.89, and 5.58 ERA’s respectively. There’s bad, and then there’s that.

Not to mention, only two of the five, Tommy Hunter and Jason Hammel, have been in a playoff race before, with neither of them being major factors in those races.

Offense Adequate, With Room For Improvement

The offense of the O’s is above average, but that’s really the best you can call it. They are 9th in runs scored, but only 17th in batting average and 21st in on base percentage to this point in 2012.

Especially considering their thin starting pitching going against strong AL East lineups in the hitter’s park they call Camden Yards, they’ll probably need to be one of the better offenses around from here on out if they want to stay in the race.

And don’t get me wrong, their offense could be very good throughout the summer months. The lineup is led by Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Weiters, Mark Reynolds, and Chris Davis, but unfortunately not all of those guys have had good seasons thus far.

Contenders or Pretenders?

If you read my post about the Washington Nationals, you know I was high on them because of their pitching. Sure, I gave their offense credit, but the discussion started and stopped with their arms on the mound.

Considering the powerful AL East that the Orioles are competing in, I think it’ll just be too tough for them to be one of the top couple of teams in their division. It’ll be tough to rely on a guy in Hammel who has never really tasted success in the majors before, too.

Their roster is not far away from selling me, though. If they can make a couple big moves in the next couple of months, maybe they’ll make more of a believer out of me. They’re a hitter and an elite starter away from being able to win that division.

Nonetheless, the Orioles have been a great story to watch unfold to this point. If they can push this impressive play into August, then who knows…maybe a couple of things can fall their way and they could steal a playoff spot.

But thinking more realistically, they’re still probably a year away from being a bona fide contender. You need a lot of talent to compete with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, not to mention the surprising Blue Jays as well.

Wins will be scarce out east, and if I had to pick one aspect of a team that is always the most important, it’s always going to be pitching. Sorry, Baltimore fans. Hopefully for you guys, I’m wrong.

About the Author

Zach Gropper

Zach Gropper is a sports broadcasting major at Indiana University in the beautiful town of Bloomington, IN. He is from Flossmoor, IL, a small Chicago suburb. Zach was was the sports director for WHFH 88.5 FM Flossmoor his junior year of high school and Television Station Manager of Viking Television during his senior year. He runs a White Sox blog at GrabSomeBench.com and also contributes and reports for AssemblyCall.com. Last summer, Zach interned for ESPN 1000 AM Chicago, working on programming for the Waddle and Silvy Show. He is currently eager to get out into the professional world of sports media, wherever that may take him.