Wrapping up Orioles' first half
With the Orioles’ second half set to begin tonight, here’s one final look at the best and worst of the first half:
MVP: You could probably make a decent case for All-Star catcher Matt Wieters and shortstop J.J. Hardy, but the vote here goes to center fielder Adam Jones because he didn’t miss a month like Hardy and he has contributed more offensively than Wieters. Jones is second among Orioles regulars in batting average (.286), tied for second in homers (13) and tied for first in RBIs (49). He has also played with great effort and focus since Day One of spring training.
Most disappointing player: Most expected Brian Matusz to emerge as the Orioles' top starter this season. Instead, he missed the first two months of the season with a strained intercostal muscle and is now pitching for Triple-A Norfolk. He went 1-4 with an 8.76 ERA in six starts for the Orioles, allowing an astonishing 40 hits, nine home runs and 11 walks in 25 2/3 innings. There is no bigger concern in the organization than the 24-year-old’s regression.
Best win: On May 10 against the Seattle Mariners at Camden Yards, the Orioles trailed by a run in the bottom of the eighth inning before Adam Jones’ RBI single gave them the lead. Kevin Gregg blew the save in the ninth, and the Mariners took the lead in the top of the 13th. However, the Orioles got four singles in the bottom of the inning, the final one by Matt Wieters, to beat All-Star closer Brandon League and win, 7-6.
Worst loss: There are plenty to choose from, but it’s hard to beat May 16 in Boston, when the Orioles blew a 6-0 sixth-inning lead, with Kevin Gregg allowing two ninth-inning runs on Adrian Gonzalez’s game-ending double off the Green Monster. Adding injury to insult, second baseman Brian Roberts sustained a concussion and first baseman Derrek Lee suffered an oblique injury. Both headed to the disabled list.
Best defensive play: The best of the first half -- and one of the best in all of baseball -- was clearly Adam Jones’ daring back-to-home plate jump into the center-field wall at Safeco Field to rob the Mariners’ Miguel Olivo of an extra-base hit June 1. However, the most impactful defensive play may have occurred in the second game of the season, when Nick Markakis scaled the wall to take away a likely game-tying hit by Ben Zobrist for the final out of the Orioles’ 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Worst case of deja vu: Everybody was reminded of how important Brian Roberts was to the team last season when he played in only 59 games because of a herniated disk in his back and the offense struggled mightily without him. This year, it has been a concussion that has kept Roberts on the sideline for all but 39 games. J.J. Hardy has done a nice job in the leadoff role, but Roberts’ combination of speed, patience and power is very much missed in the lineup.
Most pleasant surprise: Reliever Koji Uehara had two stints on the disabled list in each of his first two seasons with the club, and there was nothing to suggest that trend wouldn’t continue as he was shut down during spring training with a balky elbow. But Uehara has been ready since Opening Day, and he has emerged as of the game’s top setup men, pitching to a 2.03 ERA and allowing just 22 hits and eight walks while striking out 52 in 40 innings.
Most disappointing development: Mark Connor, a baseball lifer, had been Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s pitching coach at his other managerial stops, so it made sense when he joined the Orioles’ overhauled coaching staff this season. However, Connor abruptly resigned June 14, and the Orioles’ pitching staff has been getting progressively worse since. That’s not necessarily the fault of current pitching coach Rick Adair, but it can’t help that the Orioles' young pitchers are working with a third pitching coach over the last season and a half.
Best newcomer/front office decision: The Orioles nearly acquired shortstop Jason Bartlett from the Tampa Bay Rays for outfielder Nolan Reimold and reliever Alfredo Simon, but that trade fell through and they instead turned their attention to J.J. Hardy, whom they got from the Minnesota Twins for minor league relievers Brett Jacobson and Jim Hoey. Hardy has made just two errors this season, and he has been one of the most productive offensive shortstops in the American League.
Least impactful newcomer: The signings of veteran sluggers Vladimir Guerrero and Derrek Lee certainly haven’t worked out for the Orioles, but they have at least gotten onto the field. Justin Duchscherer, the oft-injured former All-Star pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, still hasn’t been able to pitch outside Florida, and it appears hat he won’t pitch for the Orioles this season because of hip issues. Sure, the Orioles paid him only a guaranteed $700,000. However, during a season in which their starting pitching depth has been absolutely depleted, Duchscherer’s inability to give them anything has hurt.
Best individual performance: In just his eighth major league start, young left-hander Zach Britton pitched nine shutout and three-hit innings May 12 against the Mariners. The only problem was Seattle left-hander Jason Vargas did the same and Britton got a no-decision. The Orioles eventually won, 2-1, in 12 innings, but the biggest story of the game was a masterful performance by the talented rookie.
Worst individual performance: Several Orioles starts over the past three weeks could probably qualify, but the one that sticks out is Brian Matusz’s performance against the Rays on June 12 at Camden Yards. The young lefty allowed four earned runs on five hits, including a homer, and four walks over just 1 1/3 innings. He needed 52 pitches to get just four outs, and one of the outs came courtesy of catcher Craig Tatum's throwing out Johnny Damon, who was actually safe in stealing second. Matusz also allowed four stolen bases that day, drawing the ire of manager Buck Showalter.