A run of five straight day games . . .
Six out of eight day games to begin the season . . .
15 straight games versus the AL East . . .
18 out of 21 games versus the AL East to being the season . . .
No home stands of more than five games . . .
13 out of 24 road games . . .
An 11:05 AM start following a 7:05 PM start the night before . . .
An inordinate amount of scheduled off days with four in 28 days (an average of one per week) . . .
First month trips to the carnival parks known respectively as the Rogers Centre and Fenway . . .
Temperatures rarely above 60 degrees and often much, much lower . . .
A total of three rain outs on the month . . .
Those are just some of the non-in game related occurrences the 2014 Baltimore Orioles have dealt with over the course of the first month of Major League Baseball’s 2014 regular season.
The list is not meant to incite pity for the players and/or the fans. April is a strange month on the baseball calendar. There are more day games, often times there are more days off, and the weather can always be tricky. This year, those elements all seemed to be in place and in more abundance and with more ferocity than usual.
Simply put, April baseball is exactly not normal baseball.
With the benefit of that context, finishing April with a 12-12 record and hanging right with all the teams in the AL East is a fine April fate for the O’s. April presented many different challenges. It certainly was not a normal month by any stretch of the imagination. Isn’t simply surviving with their heads above water a positive outcome?
On the field the Orioles as a unit are clearly not playing playoff-caliber baseball yet. They are certainly not yet seeing playoff-caliber results. That might be worrisome if you believe their early struggles are a harbinger of what is to come. It might also be reason for optimism. If the team is hanging around with some less-than-stellar individual and team performances, things could move in the right direction IF some performances start to turn around.
The lack of power numbers so far sticks out the most when examining the offense. After his torrid April last season, Chris Davis has hit two homeruns this month while fellow sluggers Adam Jones and JJ Hardy have one and zero homers, respectively. The entire offense is hitting to a .128 ISO through the first 24 games. Last season, the offense – which is largely the same as this year’s expect for Nelson Cruz is more than holding up his own in the power department – batted to a .171 ISO on the season. Unless one is to completely dismiss the track records of the O’s hitters, the logical conclusion is that the power will come and so will the runs with it.
The starting pitching has been subpar on the whole but there are positive signs. For one, they are trending in the right direction. Chris Tillman has an ERA of 3.38 while Wei-Yin Chen and Budd Norris sit in the mid-4.00’s, but are a good outing or two away from joining Tillman in the land of attractive ERA’s.
Secondly – and perhaps more importantly for the remainder of the season – is that there is some evidence to suggest that Baltimore starters are pitching to some bad luck and/or are experiencing abnormal results that are likely to stabilize.
Chen might be the best example of that. The lefty has done an admirable job in three critical areas: he has kept the walks down (5.4% walk rate compared to 8.8% league average), struck batters out at a fair rate (17.8% compared to 20.2% league average), and kept the ball in the park (0.3 homeruns per nine innings pitched). Based on those inputs, Chen has pitched to a fielding independent ERA (FIP) of 2.67 even though his actual ERA sits at a much higher 4.34. The cause of the variance appears to be the number of hits Chen is allowing. The opposition has batted .325 against him in 2014 compared to a .265 batting average against for his career. The difference is bABIP (batting average on balls in play) driven – Chen has a career bABIP against of right around .300 but in April it has been .392. He is allowing more line drives (29% to 27% last season) but that probably does not explain the entire variance. If Chen keeps throwing the way he is currently throwing, a strong case can be made that the results (in terms of runs prevented) will eventually start to show up.
There are other reasons for optimism, of course just as there are reasons for some concern as well. All I know is this – April was expected to be a trying month. It was and then some. We don’t know if May or June or July will actually be any better but there are reasons to believe they might be. We will just have to wait and see.
What I also know for sure is that tomorrow when the calendar flips to May, the rain stops, and the sun comes out, the2014 season will begin to finally find some normalcy (well . . . besides that whole single-admission doubleheader deal). The 24 games played so far surely count but with their record even and all of the teams of the AL East within shouting distance of one another, the season for the Orioles might well begin in earnest on Thursday.