The Yankees welcome the second place Orioles to Yankee Stadium for three games starting tonight, making it a pretty important series against a division rival with so many teams closely stacked together. Winning the series would give the Yankees a chance to pad their four-game lead, but losing the series would of course let the pack of three teams between New York and Boston right back into the hunt for the top spot.
Ahead of tonight's game I asked Mark Brown, managing editor of Camden Chat, some questions about his Orioles. I also answered some questions for Mark about the Yankees that you can read by clicking here. Here's what Mark had to say about the birds
The Orioles have struggled away from Camden Yards so far this season. What do you think is the reason behind that?
Mark: I have wondered about that a lot as this season has gone on and I don't really have an answer. They performed fairly well on the road last year, so why should the same bunch be doing so much worse in the same situations, while still mostly playing well at home? Ten out of their fourteen one-run losses have come on the road, so is it just bad luck in those kinds of games? As a team, their road OPS is over 100 points below their home OPS. But that's more "what" than "why." There isn't an obvious explanation for why that happens. I wish that I knew what it was, and that the Orioles knew what it was, so they could try to fix it.
The AL East is in a unique position this year where it feels like almost any team is capable of winning the division. What do you think the Orioles need to do differently in the second half if they want to win the division?
Mark: The biggest thing that the Orioles need is a better performance from their 3-5 starters. Wei-Yin Chen and Ubaldo Jimenez were both very good in the first half of the season. Miguel Gonzalez was kind of OK. Chris Tillman and Bud Norris were horrible. Norris has been bounced to the bullpen, replaced (hopefully for good) by Kevin Gausman. Tillman came out of the All-Star Break and ripped off eight shutout innings against the Tigers, and he's typically been a better pitcher in the second half of the year in his career... so maybe Second Half Tillman is here? I won't believe it until I see it.
If they can get to 2-3 good starters and the rest at least OK, I think they'll be in contention to the end. Of course, there's also the question of whether the good starters stay good. Jimenez got torched for seven runs in his first start out of the break.
Do you predict a big splash for the Orioles at the trade deadline? Which areas of concern would you like to see them address?
Mark: Splash? The Orioles are more of a sit on the side of the pool with their feet hanging into the water kind of team. I can't imagine them going out there and getting a Cueto or an Upton or a Gomez or any of the other big names. They'll probably go out and get someone marginal who likely represents an upgrade over their existing corner outfield struggle situation - Alex Presley, recently DFA'd by Houston, wouldn't surprise me at all - but not because that person is actually good, just because what they're currently tossing out there is so bad.
It's not that I think they don't want to improve, but I don't think they could put together the best offer for anyone who really matters. The farm system is bleak after their top two pitching prospects, both of whom have spent most of the season injured. What value do they even have that it makes sense to give up?
The Orioles have gotten a couple resurgent seasons out of Ubaldo Jimenez and Chris Davis. What has been the key to those turnarounds and is it sustainable for the rest of the season?
Mark: The improvement for Jimenez seems to be largely credited to the O's hiring Ramon Martinez, brother of Pedro, as a special pitching consultant. He worked with Jimenez during spring training on having a more consistent delivery and so far that's showed in Ubaldo posting the lowest BB/9 of his whole career. From that has flowed other benefits that will hopefully stick for the rest of his contract with the O's.
As far as Davis, it seems like he spent most of last season suffering from an injured oblique that didn't fully heal until he rested it in the offseason. Before this season he offered that as the reason for much of his struggling last year. So I find it believable enough that he's healthier and that's at least gotten him above the Mendoza Line. You kinda have to hope for a little better than a .782 OPS from your $12 million first baseman. But at the same time, it could be a lot worse.
Which, if any, of the players on expiring contracts this year do you think will still be in an Orioles uniform next season? Is there anyone you particularly want the team to keep around?
Mark: If you asked me the same question before the season started, my answer would have been Darren O'Day and Steve Pearce, because I figured those were two guys whose performance would be useful but not great, making them most likely to return on modest contracts. O'Day has been so great he's probably priced himself out, and Pearce has cratered so hard I think that he needs to be sent to the great DFA in the sky - never mind that the Orioles are going to give away his bobblehead on their last home game of the year.
Right this second, I'm going to say Matt Wieters, because I think that there's a near certainty the Orioles will make him a qualifying offer, and if he coasts along to a bad enough season, he might well take that money even if he's a Boras client. It's also possible he drifts along to a bad enough season that the O's don't even want to make a QO to him, but he still comes back on a pillow-ish one year deal because this is the place he knows. I take it back. I don't think any of the free agents will be coming back.
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