Zach Britton was activated from the 60-day disabled list today and not a moment too soon. The Orioles bullpen, along with the starting staff, has been struggling mightily all season in his absence, blowing game after game. The questions are, however, will Zach be his 2016 self when he returns to the mound and will it matter?
Zach Britton finished his 2016 campaign as one of the best closers in baseball with a .054 ERA and 47 saves, which was top for the American League. Even though the starting rotation was ranked 10th in ERA in 2016, the Orioles bullpen was ranked 1st in ERA. The supporting cast of Darren O’Day, Mychal Givens, and Brad Brach provided much needed relief until Zach was ready to close games out; but in 2017, Zach’s return may not be able to turn this pitching staff around.
During Zach’s absence, the Orioles tied the 1924 Phillies for allowing 5 or more runs over 20 straight games. The bats can’t seem to catch fire early in games or dig out of any holes they put themselves in. The All-Star break couldn’t have come at a better time for the O’s as they need to reset.
In the last 7 days, the Orioles’ bats only have a .208 batting average; which is only 8 points above the Mendoza line. The Mendoza line is thought of as the offensive threshold below which a player’s presence in MLB cannot be justified, regardless of his defensive abilities. So as a team, a few more games of this terrible hitting could grounds for the whole team to be benched.
The Orioles’ pitching, over the last 7 days, has actually been much better than what the team pitched in all of June. The Orioles have been averaging a 4.83 ERA the past week, which is 7th best in the American League compared to a 6.27 ERA in June that put the Orioles in dead last. As it seems that the Orioles pitching staff is getting healthier but the starting staff is still very underwhelming, the Orioles faithful is waiting for the bats to wake back up. The one aspect of the Orioles game that has been lacking during the Buck Showalter era has been small ball; when the offense is built on power hitters and hitting the ball into the upper deck, at some point the bats will go cold.
Small ball helps teams manufacture runs when they aren’t going out of the yard our falling in open spaces. With the Orioles behind 8.5 games from first place, it appears that a Wild Card spot is the only way this unit will make the playoffs. If they can change strategy during the break, the Orioles may be able to put themselves back into contention. With the second-worst run differential in the league and a road heavy schedule for the rest of the season, it will be a steep mountain to climb.