Now that I’ve taken time to let the emotions calm down a bit, it’s time to discuss what happened last night and more importantly where the Orioles need to go in the future.
Let’s start off by saying Buck did not lose last night’s game. Now that we got that out of the way, I will say he did not put his team in the best position to win the game last night and that is a manager’s primary function during the game. His decision to not bring in Britton to start the 11th inning after he had used up Givens, Brach and O’Day is indefensible. To start an inning off with a guy who was released this year and then go to a starter who has not pitched well in relief in a winner takes all game instead of going to the best reliever in baseball is beyond any sane baseball decision.
Buck clearly was trying to “save” Britton for a save situation, and perhaps in a mid-season game where you are trying to save your bullpen it could be argued to hold off Britton for those last crucial outs. But in the wild card game for all the marbles, you put your best reliever in the game, hope you can get two innings out of him if needed, then hope your offense can score. If they don’t, and you then have to go to the likes of Duensing and Ubaldo, then you can at say you fired all your best bullets and just ran out.
Now that we got that out of the way, this loss really sits on an ineffective offense led by team leaders who have continually come up short in the post season. This is a team that couldn’t muster one single hit off five separate relievers covering five innings of work. A Blue Jays bullpen that had been their Achilles heel over the last month or so of the season shut the Orioles offense down.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, it’s the same core of players who have disappeared in post season play led the way in last night’s ineptness. Adam Jones (.413 OPS in 63 Post season PAs), Manny Machado (.588 OPS in 27 PAs), Chris Davis (.452 OPS in 30 PAs), Matt Wieters (.310 in 30 PAs), Jonathan Schoop (.450 OPS in 28 PAs) and JJ Hardy (.604 OPS in 86 PAs) combined to go 2-for-24 (.083/.120/.083/.203) with a BB. With your core puts up a .203 OPS, you probably don’t deserve to win.
The scary part is we now have a decent body of work from the core in the playoffs and as you can see by their OPS’s, they have continually come up small in post season play. In fact, some of the same core struggled during this September when the Orioles were playing playoff type of baseball almost every night.
In September, here’s how the core slashed:
Adam Jones: (.223/.286/.355/.641)
Manny Machado (.243/.288/.409/.697)
Chris Davis (.223/.316/.417/.734)
Matt Wieters (.253/.337/.481/.818)
JJ Hardy (.306/.352/.429/.780)
Jonathan Schoop: (.196/.222/.348/.570)
Wieters and Hardy hit well, but the other four did not exactly step up in crunch time. So what does this say about our core players? Honestly, I’m not sure, but it seems as though when the pressure goes up, Jones, Machado, Schoop and Davis go flailing away. To be fair, Davis flails away all the time, but how many poor swings and poor approaches did we see by this core, especially over the last month of the season.
The Orioles just have too many players who are too similar in their lineup. Despite hitting 30 more homers than any team in Major League baseball, they scored just 4.59 runs per game which was just 7th best in the AL. Their low OBP (.317, 9th in AL) and high strike outs (1324, 5th worse in AL) combined with a ridiculously slow team (19 stolen bases, did last in all of MLB) was the perfect recipe for a feast or famine offense.
Although the Orioles 3.86 pitches per AB is about league average, their 30.6% swings at the 1st pitch is 3rdworse in the AL. In contrast, the Blue Jays were first in pitches per AB (4.03) and 3rd in swinging at 1stpitches (26.4%) while Boston was tied for 2nd in pitches per AB (3.94) and 1st by wide margin in swinging at 1st pitches (20.9%). Boston also led the league in contact percentage with 80% while the Blue Jays were 10th with 76.2% and the Orioles were 12th with a 73.8%. In other words, the Orioles main competition this year in the AL East worked pitchers better, swung at less 1st pitches, and made more contact when they did swing. Obviously they both outscored the Orioles this year (Bos-5.42 R/G, Tor 4.69, BAL 4.59) and both are still in the playoffs.
So more importantly, what does Dan Duquette need to do this offseason to improve the offense? Well, despite the homers, he needs to let Trumbo go. As much as Trumbo helped the Orioles, he’s too similar to the guys coming back so it’s time to let someone else drop a truck load of money on him. Who should they target to replace him, well, the same guy they tried to get this offseason, Dexter Fowler. Fowler slashed .276/.393/.447/.840 for the Cubs while playing a solid CF. Imagine how much better this offense would have been with Fowler leading off and Kim hitting 2nd? I’d let him play center field and move Jones to RF where his skills are better at this stage of his career.
I’d try and get Eric Thames (.422,.497/.425 OBP in KBO last 3 years, same league Hyun Soo Kim came from) back from the Japanese League and platoon him with Trey Mancini at DH (to save some money) and resign Michael Bourne to be the 4th outfielder. If we can get Wieters back on a team friendly 2-year deal I’d do that as well. I’d have no problem with Steve Pearce coming back as 5th outfielder, back up 1stbase, and possibly DH against lefties if Mancini struggles.
No matter what DD does this offseason, he needs to look for OBP and guys that will work the count. He needs hitters who can give the team good situational at bats when needed and players who bring some kind of skill like speed, defense, or ability to get on base. With most of the core under contracts next year, it will be hard to transform this offense significantly without trades of some kinds.
If DD goes that route, Adam Jones could be a prime player to dangle out in the trade market although Schoop could be his most valuable trading chip. With Schoop being cost controlled over the next few years though it’s doubtful he will be moved. Of course the Orioles should always see if someone is willing to take Davis off their hands, but with his contract it’s doubtful he could be moved.
With six starting pitchers under contract the Orioles won’t need to add a starter and their bullpen is pretty set as well, though they may want to try and lock up Zach Britton before he hits the free agency market in 2018. The offense is where Duquette will need to help transform this team.
It should be an interesting offseason once again in Birdland.