BALTIMORE — No respite, no reprieve. The Orioles will come out of the All-Star break with a unique test tailored to their own profile. The club will play 23 games in 24 days after the intermission, an arduous stretch that will test its depth and its ability to play well away from Camden Yards.
The Orioles will begin the second half with a three-game series in Chicago that starts on Friday and, after that, they’ll head to road series in New York and Boston. Baltimore will then play host to Kansas City and Boston before making a two-city trip to Detroit and Toronto. And here’s why that’s so noteworthy: The Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers all stand as having among the best home records in the American League, and the Blue Jays have played far better at home than on the road this season.
They’re not alone: The Orioles showed a severe disparity in the first half, playing to a 26-21 record at home and a 14-27 mark on the road. And that disparity shows up in the statistics. Baltimore has a 5.96 ERA on the road — which stands as the worst in the AL — and a 4.16 mark at home. The Orioles also hit .237 and scored 167 runs on the road, marks that stand second-to-last in the league, contrasted with an AL-best .294 batting average in their own home park.
And if you look even closer, those splits affect nearly all of Baltimore’s regular starters. Brian Roberts and Adam Jones are the players that show the least radical swings in performance based on location, but the rest of the heart of the order isn’t as fortunate. Four players — Aubrey Huff (.295/.228), Melvin Mora (.310/.204), Nick Markakis (.328/.247) and Ty Wigginton (.281/.236) — show extreme splits that see them hitting more than 40 points better at home than on the road.
Luke Scott has been successful at both home and on the road, but he’s been far better at Camden Yards (.323/.419/.633) than he has been elsewhere (.288/.333/.538). The split even affects rookies Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters, who are both hitting in the .230’s on the road and in the .280’s at home.
Put all of that together and you get a team with plenty to prove on the road in the second half, not to mention a great opportunity to start that upward mobility immediately. The Orioles, who went 5-5 in their past 10 games before the All-Star break, are just 13-19 against division rivals this season. They’ll get 12 more division games in this stretch alone, playing six times against Boston, three times against New York and three more against Toronto. Nine of the 12 will come on the road.
Baltimore, which has 41 road games and 34 home games left this season, has had a particularly tough time against Boston. The Orioles are just 1-6 against the Red Sox in 2009 and have been outscored 50-30 in the process, a showing that comes right on the heels of a 6-12 mark against Boston last season. Baltimore is also 3-6 against New York and 5-4 against Toronto, lending interesting perspective to its next few series against AL East opponents.
The Orioles, who played to a 9-13 record during the season’s first month, have shown a modest improvement as the year has progressed. Baltimore went 14-15 in May and 12-14 in June, feeding into a 5-6 record thus far throughout July. And despite winning more series than they’ve lost, the Orioles still have a losing record, thanks largely to road series sweeps in Boston, Florida, New York, Toronto and Oakland. By contrast, Baltimore has just two three-game series sweeps to its credit.
If Baltimore is going to make a run in the second half, it will have to find a way to get its starters deeper in the game. The Orioles have seen their starting pitchers work the least amount of innings in the league by a slim margin, and consequently, they’ve seen their bullpen work more innings than anyone else. The four-day break may be key to O’s pitching.
Baltimore will play six games right after the break — three against Chicago and three more against the Yankees — before getting an off-day. After that, the squad will plow through 20 games before its next day off on Aug. 20, a difficult stretch followed by 18 consecutive games before the rosters expand on Sept. 1. Interestingly, despite that challenging segment of the calendar, the team will have four days off in September alone.
The Orioles have seen their share of success in the first half, and they’ll undoubtedly have things to be proud of after the All-Star break. Now, though, their main attention has to be on avoiding the second-half swoons that have plagued them in recent seasons. Baltimore went 6-28 down the stretch last year, 11-28 in 2007, 10-20 in ’06 and 14-28 in ’05. The Orioles haven’t finished strong since ’04, a season in which they racked up their best record (78-84) since 1998.
Manager Dave Trembley grudgingly discussed his pitching plans for the second half Sunday, but he bristled when asked about Rich Hill’s immediate future. Trembley laid out his rotation for the first series after the break, but he only gave one starter for the second series, prompting questions about Hill’s fate.
Trembley set up that situation a week earlier, when he said the Orioles would re-evaluate Hill’s role over the All-Star break. But Sunday, when asked about that subject, he acted as if it didn’t exist. Trembley lauded Hill for pitching well Saturday night, and said he doesn’t plan on tabbing a reliever to make his next start.
“I don’t have to talk about what my rotation is in New York,” said Trembley. “I don’t know what my other options are. I don’t have six starters. I have five starters, and I just don’t know when guys are going to pitch. I know [David] Hernandez is going to pitch the first day in New York, and after that, I don’t know who’s pitching.”
That was neither a vote of confidence or of scrutiny for Hill, whose role will be left up in the air until next week. Trembley did divulge his plans for the Chicago series — which runs Friday-Sunday — saying that he would turn to Jason Berken, Jeremy Guthrie and Brad Bergesen against the White Sox. After that, it’s Hernandez and a mystery starter in New York for a three-game set beginning July 20.
There has been talk that the Orioles may be willing to promote top pitching prospect Chris Tillman after the All-Star break, but that may be more of an August thing than a mid-July deal. As for Hill’s next rotation turn, Trembley said he would discuss the situation with pitching coach Rick Kranitz over the All-Star break.
“Kranny’s going to call me when he gets home and let me know what he’s doing in New York,” said Trembley, referring to the last two games of the series. “But I believe that’s what it is in Chicago: Berken, Guthrie, Bergesen.”
Perhaps the only surprise in that initial trio is Guthrie, Baltimore’s Opening Day starter. The right-hander has been slowed by a viral infection in recent days, but Trembley thinks he’s healthy enough to pitch.
“He’s getting some more tests tomorrow,” said Trembley. “But I’m confident with the amount of improvement he’s made that he’s going to be OK. I’m hoping that’s the case, and that’s kind of the direction I’m leaning.”
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its club. This information was taken from http://baltimore.orioles.mlb.com/ and is copyright mlb.com