Second Half Slide Ends Orioles Season
October 28, 2016
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Throughout the baseball world, there was not a large amount of optimism for the Orioles in 2016. The team that had gone 81-81 the prior season did not look any better on paper, despite spending nearly $250 million in the off season.
The front office laid out two primary goals to improve the club: upgrading the pitching rotation with a front line starter, and improving the team’s on base percentage. The rotation goal didn’t go as planned, as many front line starters went elsewhere, and the Orioles ended up with nothing more than declining veteran Yovani Gallardo. On-base percentage was not improved either, in fact, it looked to have actually gotten worse. Matt Wieters and Chris Davis both returned to the team, and they also acquired sluggers Mark Trumbo and Pedro Alvarez, which seemingly added to the home run or bust mentality that had hurt the team in the past.
The lone on-base hitter added in the off season was Korean outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who saw the start of his Oriole career become a slew of controversy. After going 0-25 to start spring training, many fans called for Kim’s release in favor of young outfielder Joey Rickard. Kim declined a minor league assignment, a right he was contractually obligated to use, which led many fans to boo him on Opening Day.
It took nearly two months for Kim to make the lineup on a consistent basis, but when he finally got in, he made it count, leading the team with an on-base percentage of .382.
Kim wasn’t the only pleasant surprise for the Orioles on the season. Right fielder Mark Trumbo was able to resurrect his career in the hitter friendly Camden Yards, slugging a league leading 47 home runs. It became the 4th straight year that MLB’s home run leader came from the Orioles. Pedro Alvarez also brought the power, knocking 22 homers. Perhaps the biggest surprise was pitcher Dylan Bundy. After battling injuries every since he was drafted, the 23 year old finally got his shot with the major league club, becoming a starter in mid-July. He did not disappoint, taking no hitters into the 7th inning in two of his first 3 career starts. He seemingly dealt with burnout in September, but showed flashes of the front-line starter that the team saw when they drafted him back in 2011.
Unfortunately the surprises were evened out by disappointments. Once the crowned jewel of the organization, catcher Matt Wieters was unsuccessful in his 2nd season removed from Tommy John surgery. Wieters was only able to hit .243 with 17 home runs, and saw his defense decline as well. Yovani Gallardo continued his aforementioned decline, pitching to a 5.42 ERA and allowing 16 home runs, and that was even without the two months he missed due to a shoulder injury. Speaking of injuries, Darren O’Day, one of the Orioles best relievers in recent history, missed most of the season due to multiple hamstring injuries. The biggest disappointment of the season had to be Chris Davis. In the first season of his historic 7 year, 161 million dollar contract, Davis struck out a league leading 219 times. Davis was also only able to muster an on-base percentage of .332. Davis’s power will always play in Camden Yards, as he still slugged 38 home runs this year, but the team obviously hopes that he can figure things out and get on base more in the future.
In an array of guys who are widely considered league average to above-average players, the Orioles have two bonafide stars in Manny Machado and Zach Britton.
Machado, at just 24 years old, is already widely considered as one of the best players in the sport. After a 2015 season that finished him 4th in MVP voting, he didn’t slow down in 2016, as he hit .294 with 37 home runs and 92 RBIs. Defensively, his 13 Defensive Runs Saved finished him 2nd among AL 3rd basemen. It could be considered a down year by Machado’s standards, but he still has plenty of room to grow, and a down year that still nets a player a start in the All-Star Game and MVP consideration really speaks to the level of play that Machado is truly capable of.
Zach Britton took over as the Orioles closer midway through the 2014 season, and his sinker that topped out at 99 miles per hour immediately led him to elite status among major league closers. 2016 was his best season yet; he has even garnered consideration for the Cy Young Award, something rarely seen by a relief pitcher. Britton converted a perfect 47 of 47 saves, allowed only 4 earned runs all season, which led to a 0.54 ERA, and also totaled
74 strikeouts in 67 innings. After a game in August, Nationals center fielder Trea Turner described Britton as “invisible.” “I thought I was right on every pitch,” said Turner, “then the ball’s not there.”
So the question seems to be, where did everything go wrong for a team that had such a promising first half, including 3 separate 7 game win streaks. The top contributor to the collapse is mostly for the lack of offense in the 2nd half. Other than Pedro Alvarez, nearly everybody on the team saw their average and on-base percentage drop in the second half. Thought the rotation improved, the offense never seemed to hold their own. The team was able to make the postseason, despite forcing themselves to go on the road for the do-or-die wild card game in Toronto.
The bats once again were non-existent in the game, as the only runs came from a 2-run Mark Trumbo home run. The game went to 12 innings, and curiously, manager Buck Showalter opted to never put Zach Britton in the game. The season was ended on a 3-run walk off home run off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion.
Overall, the season should not be deemed a failure. The team exceeded expectations and in the end it just didn’t work out. In order to assure future success, the Orioles will need to find a way to improve their starting pitching, and add more of an on-base mindset to their offense.