16-15. That was the Baltimore Orioles’ record in May, which is a lot better than I thought it was when I began research for this article. For all of the struggles, at different times coming from both the offense and the pitching staff, the O’s still finished the month with a winning record, and now sit 28-27 overall on the year. Good enough for 3rd place in the AL East, but they have work to do in June if they want to be well-positioned for the stretch run of the season.
As we did for April, let’s evaluate the team by individual facet of the game.
A mixed bag. As I predicted in April’s review, the team BABIP dropped dramatically, from .320 (4th in MLB) to just .292 in May (20th). Thus, the offense went cold for a stretch, and finished 14th in runs scored for the month. Lots of those runs can be attributed to one guy (more on him in a minute), so the rest of the team needs to pick up the slack.
Chris Davis hit 5 home runs in May despite playing in only 18 games, but he only hit .209 for the month.
J.J. Hardy hit for a great average (.333) but still has yet to hit a homer all season. I can’t imagine writing that again in my June review, but still, a very uncharacteristic start for the All-Star shortstop.
In better news, I believe Manny Machado is finally starting to get right, and not strictly due to his mammoth grand slam against Houston on Sunday. The third baseman is only hitting .230 on the year, but his personal BABIP is extremely low thus far at .250, a strong sign of him being unlucky at the plate. Expect a big turnaround from Machado in June.
Nelson Cruz, of course. It’d be a felony to give it to anyone else. In May, Cruz hit .339, with 13 bombs and 27 RBI. He’s been unstoppable so far in 2014, and at this stage is a legitimate MVP candidate. Making $8 million on a one-year contract, Cruz could end up being one of the biggest steals of all time if he continues to rake like he has been.
Once again, a pretty mixed bag (sensing a theme yet?). The staters had a 4.29 ERA in May, good enough for 8th overall during the month. They were also tied for 8th in baseball with 174 innings pitched, so they did a decent job of giving the bullpen some rest when needed.
They weren’t without their issues, however. Chris Tillman posted a 5.68 ERA to go along with a 1.53 WHIP. His 20 walks allowed was by far the most on the staff for the month, and is a spot of major concern for a guy who was supposed to be the ace of the staff at the beginning of the season. Wei-Yin Chen’s May WHIP of 1.24 was pretty good, but he allowed 6 home runs in only 5 starts, inflating his May ERA to 4.66. If he can keep the ball in the yard, he’ll be fine going forward.
Ubaldo Jimenez. TWO high-profile free agent signings are working out for Baltimore?!? What is this?! Jimenez led the team with 38 strikeouts during May, and also had the lowest ERA of all the starters at 3.12. Obviously he read my scathing review of his April performance (seriously, how did have zero quality starts for an entire month? The world may never know) and decided to shape up*. Hopefully this version of “Ubaldomore” is here to stay and that April version falls into a hole, never to be heard from again.
*This probably did not happen.
I bet you can guess. But if I had to call it something, I’d compare it to . . . a sack, with like, a bunch of different things in it, so when you pull something out, you never know what it’s gonna be. Whatever you would call that is a pretty good description of how the bullpen performed in May, I’d say.
In all seriousness, the bullpen was 14th in ERA for the month, at 3.48. They were also 17th in BABIP at .286; a little low, but not so low as to expect a big regression in June. Six blown saves combined for the month is bad, but for now I’m gonna chalk that up to bad luck, nothing more. What’s more worrying is the high HR/9 rate (0.94, 8th highest). Like Chen in the rotation, if the bullpen can keep the opponent’s HRs down, they’ll be fine. If they can’t, well . . .
Darren O’Day. Seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do? May was just another month of him putting up a .68 ERA and an identical WHIP. His .167 BABIP means he’ll probably regress slightly over the next month, but not much, as long as Buck Showalter uses him in ideal situations. Oh, and his Left On Base percentage was 100%.
100%. Think about that. The bullpen’s numbers as a whole would look a whole lot worse without the submarine-style righty.
Looking ahead to June
Notice something strange about all of the Orioles’ rankings? They’re all pretty much right around league average. Not shocking considering the team’s record, but for all of the O’s fans expecting a championship contender, well, this team isn’t it, at least not as currently constructed.
The good news is that none of the other AL East teams are that special either (Toronto’s offense is on fire at the moment, but their pitching staff should be dousing that shortly). Baltimore is squarely in the hunt for the division crown, and should remain there all season.
June is a tough month, schedule-wise. The O’s will kick off a series in Texas against the Rangers on Tuesday, then return home to take on the team with the best record in baseball, the Oakland A’s, in a 3-game set. After that, it’s all of the AL East foes in a row, starting with Boston and ending with New York, in what will be a crucial stretch in the middle of the month. June comes to a close with series’ against the Chi-Sox and a rematch with the Rays. Not impossible, but not easy, either. This month will be a great opportunity for Baltimore to make up ground in the division, as long as they get out to a decent start against those pesky AL West teams.