I'm not sure I get all the doom and gloom around here. That 18-26 period he referenced is largely just an extension of the recent 8-14 stretch heading into the All-Star Break (we were nearly .500 for the rest of that 44 game stretch).
So what happened? A complete and total power outage and hitting swoon happened. Over those 22 games, we posted a combined slash line of .198/.263/.305/.568. That's correct, .568! There are only about 10 PLAYERS in the league with an OPS that low, and only the park-handicapped Mariners (.649), Padres (.666), and A's (.667) are within even 100 points of that paltry performance. Needless to say, we're not going to continue "hitting" (I use the term loosely) at such a grievously shameful rate. That's what the team has done as a whole, but what are the individual components of such an offensive collapse? Listed below are the regulars, their slash line since June 15 (that 22-game span), their 3-year average slash line, and their deviation from their 3-year average over the past 22 games.
Adam Jones: .238/.256/.393/.649 (.284/.324/.472/.796) (-18.5%)
Matt Wieters: .214/.295/.371/.666 (.254/.325/.419/.744) (-10.5%)
J.J. Hardy: .112/.141/.169/.310 (.256/.299/.432/.731) (-57.6%)
Chris Davis: .154/.203/.262/.465 (.253/.304/.412/.716) (-35.1%)
Jim Thome: .238/.333/.238/.571 (.266/.381/.538/.919) (-37.9%)
Mark Reynolds: .111/.246/.241/.487 (.210/.324/.447/.771) (-36.8%)
Wilson Betemit: .319/.365/.478/.843 (.281/.348/.465/.813) (+3.7%)
Robert Andino: .190/.292/.286/.578 (.248/.307/.333/.640) (-9.7%)
Others (Roberts, Pearce, Avery, Paulino, Tolleson, Flaherty, Mahoney): .211/.274/.354/.628
All of which is a numerical way of saying that this slump has been both team-wide and patently horrific. We've had precisely one regular performing at around his 3-year average, and about half the lineup is mired in epic slides that are hugely removed from (what they've shown to be) their true talent. Moreover, as bad as they've been in general during this 22-game span, they've been even worse in the "clutch," posting a .171 average with RISP. Tough to score runs when you're hitting terribly with no one on --- and then hitting even worse on the rare occasions you DO get a few ducks on the pond. No small wonder, then, that they've scored 2.8 runs/game during that span, as compared to 4.6 runs/game before June 15. Which obviously has made the past few weeks nearly unbearable to watch, but it actually reassures me a little bit about the team moving forward, for a few reasons.
1. There is absolutely no way all of these hitters continue to struggle the way they have. This team may not be a true .760 OPS, top 5 in the league offense, but it's also very certainly not the worst by a wide margin. It is simply unrealistic to expect Reynolds, Hardy, and Davis to continue to scuffle like below-replacement hitters --- all three will turn it around, at least to some extent, and probably soon. Our two best hitters (arguably at least) in Jones and Wieters have both been substantially worse than their 3-year averages, and I suspect very few of us believe that those averages are a good deal below their true talent in the first place. Even just a simple regression to the mean across the lineup would lead to the offense getting MUCH healthier over the weeks and months to come.
2. With the return of a fresh Nick Markakis, the lineup will regain some stability and experience an injection of increased talent. Even if Nick hits only to his 3-year average (.781 OPS), that would be a major upgrade, particularly in the OBP department where we're desperate for some help. This is especially true when you consider that his return will likely lead to decreased (or zero) ABs for the likes of Tolleson and Flaherty, who have both dragged down the overall offensive performance and should be largely squeezed out with RF now permanently occupied again. We've also added Jim Thome for the second half run, and though he's had a few ABs thus far, we have yet to see much impact. But there's no reason to expect this to continue to be the case --- despite his age, he has consistently been an .800+ OPS bat (or much more). Given full-time reps as the DH in OPACY, I think it's very reasonable to expect him to improve on our DH OPS performance (.753) by some 50 points or more.
3. Of all the non-regulars, the two who have performed well over this stretch have been Xavier Avery and Steve Pearce. Which is important, because they're the two non-regulars who could actually get a fair quantity of ABs when the team is at full strength. Since June 15, that pair has combined for a .243/.325/.429/.754 slash line. Now, obviously, Avery currently has been replaced by Chavez. But as I see it, Chavez will either perform (and post numbers similar to Avery's, such as he's generally done over the past 5 years) or he'll be gone and the X-Man will return. Either way, the possibility of a platoon involving Pearce in LF could bode well for us, especially if we lose one of the 1B/3B/DH quartet for any reason.
4. Despite the horrific hitting during this span, we still managed to go 8-14. Unquestionably, this is a poor record. Certainly not what we're looking for. But to win 8 games of 22 with our starting pitching while hitting like a blindfolded high school team? That's not what we've come to expect from the Orioles. In years past, a full system failure like that would have been the jumping-off point for an outright collapse, not a bad-but-really-not-terrible run. Yes, we took it on the chin in a couple series (NYM, CLE, LAA x2 come to mind), but we also grinded out three tough series wins against ATL, WAS, and SEA during those 22 games. Which is not to mention a few other games where we almost got over the hump and stole wins. Even when this particular Orioles team goes down, most nights they're doing so while scratching and clawing until the last out. As of now, at least, despite the pervasive and life-sapping team slump, I don't get any sense that this group has much "roll over and play dead" in them.
5. Despite having gone 8-14 and 18-26, as the article notes, we're 45-40 and currently hold the second wild card. That's a lot of wins already in the bank, as they say, and while the last stretch has been disappointing, it means that we also had a 41 game stretch where we were 27-14. Seems like a lot of us are putting much more stock in the second quarter of the season, probably because it's (1) more recent and (2) the Orioles, who, let's face it, don't have a great track record for closing out seasons. And yes, there are reasons why the 27-14 wasn't "real" or "sustainable" --- namely, the 3.37 staff ERA and a lot of one-run wins. But it seems just as true that the horrific offense of the past month or more isn't real or sustainable. Just as we were expecting the pitching to take a bit of a tumble, so too should we be EXPECTING the offense to rally and start winning some games for us. And heck, the pitching staff has been underperforming its peripherals since 27-14 as well (4.73 ERA compared to 4.43 FIP), so we might even expect a bounceback there, especially if the personnel changes in the coming weeks.
We aren't the 107-win team we played like in the season's first quarter. But I also pretty firmly believe we're also not the 66-win team we played like in the season's second quarter. We're not going to hit like that for another 22-game span, it just won't happen. And the exciting thing is, if we just play like something in between those two teams (an 86-87 win team), we'll be right in the thick of the playoff hunt. I certainly wouldn't bet my life on that happening, but with a collective resurgence from the offense and maybe some solidification of the pitching staff --- it's a real possibility. I'm not ready to throw in the towel on this group quite yet.
Visit the Orioles Hangout Message Board