We have now passed the 60-game mark of the 2014 MLB season. We can slice it, dice it and distill it any way you like, but the Orioles have been a disappointing team so far. The reasons for that disappointment are all over the place.
Despite the overall numbers, the defense has been fairly sloppy and the starting pitching has been inconsistent. Although the offense has been good, Manny Machado has not looked like himself, Chris Davis hasn't put up the numbers he did in 2013 and Matt Wieters has landed on the disabled list after batting .308 during his first 26 games played.
There has been one great performance, that of designated hitter/outfielder Nelson Cruz, who has a .307 batting average, 21 home runs and 55 RBIs. Right fielder Nick Markakis has grown into the role of an excellent leadoff hitter -- with a .309 batting average and a .367 OBP. After a somewhat lackluster start, center fielder Adam Jones has come on like gangbusters. He reached base during 20 consecutive games (May 6-26) while batting .360. He is currently on a six-game hit streak, in which he has gone 12-27 at a .440 clip.
In the Orioles' bullpen, Ryan Webb, Brian Matusz and Darren O'Day have all been solid. But the star of the 'pen has been new closer Zach Britton.
But having said all that, the MVP the MVP from day one through now has been Cruz. That begs the question, whom do the Orioles need to be their MVP for June and July? The answer may be a little surprising. But with the total lack of consistency from key starters Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez at the top of the rotation, the starting staff's newest member, Kevin Gausman, probably needs to now take the biggest step of all and become close to an ace.
Gausman has the stuff; that hasn't been at question. The question really comes down to whether he can get into the necessary repetition of his delivery and carry a higher level of focus, which the majors require.
If he sticks in the rotation and doesn't have any big setbacks, he'll start 10-11 times between now and the end of July. He got his first major league win as a starting pitcher June 7. If he can win six or seven of those next 10 starts, and, more importantly, have an ERA of 3.4 or less, not only would Gausman be the team's MVP for the next two months, he just might single-handedly keep his team in the race for either an American League East title or a wild-card spot.
The Houston Astros are in at 27 this week, down one spot from a week ago on the heels of a 3-3 week. All told, after a 1-7 stretch from May 3-10, Houston has chimed in with a 17-10 mark from May 11-June 8. Although the Astros are not out of the woods yet, things are clearly turning in the right direction.
First baseman Jon Singleton has made the jump to the big league club based on his power and run production with the Triple-A Red Hawks in Oklahoma. There, he batted .267, with 43 RBIs and 14 home runs.
Another reason his call-up is noteworthy is the contract the Astros signed and Singleton accepted. It's a historic contract in that before Singleton had any major league service time, the club offered to buy out three of his arbitration-eligible seasons at a fixed cost.
Singleton, who was suspended 50 games in 2013 for marijuana usage, and has admitted earlier during his career to being a marijuana addict, is set to make $1.5 million for 2014 and $2 million per year in 2015-2018. When you factor in small buyouts, the total guaranteed is $10 million.
There are then three option years -- 2019-21 -- with a total value of $20 million plus an additional $5 million in incentives and awards.
Previously, the Astros had tried to ink third baseman Matt Dominguez and outfielder George Springer to a similar club-friendly deal. Both Dominguez and Springer appear to have made a smart move by not selling out their option years.
Houston left fielder Robbie Grossman has struggled early this season, and after another month-long stint in the minors, he is back up and back playing. But he has batted only .198 in his first 86 big league at bats of 2014.
Speaking of Singleton, it's interesting to hear the general manager who actually acquired him speak about the trade between the Astros and the Phillies. Ed Wade, who was the general manager of the Phillies at one time, was the general manager of the Astros when he traded outfielder Hunter Pence to the Phillies for the following package: pitcher Jarred Cosart, first baseman Singleton, right-handed pitcher Josh Zeid and a player to be named later, who has turned out to be outfielder Domingo Santana.
A story has been making the rounds that Santana was made available because of a clerical error by Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro's front-office team. Amaro has denied that an error allowed Santana to be included as part of the deal. Santana, 21, has emerged this season as the Astros' No. 8 best prospect, and is batting .291 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs and an .847 OPS during his first 63 games in Triple A.
The AL East of 2014 has begun to remind me of the Atlantic Coast Conference, say, circa 2005. People were always used to saying the ACC was the best conference in college basketball. When suddenly that statement wasn't really true, ACC fans were perhaps the last to get the memo.
Well, for years, with the Red Sox and Yankees having deep pockets and the Tampa Bay Rays being sneaky as hell, it has been an accepted axiom that the AL East is baseball's best division.
But the times, they are a changing. Toronto has a sizable lead in the AL East, but overall, it's beginning to look as if the pendulum is swinging westward with three improving teams in the AL West. The Los Angeles Angels seemed to have regained their traction after missing the playoffs in 2012 and '13. The Seattle Mariners and their general manager, Jack Zduriencik, were roundly panned after they signed Robinson Cano to a 10-year, $240 million contract and not much else. But buoyed by some stud starting pitching by the likes of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, a Cuban named Roenis Elias and the unlikely Chris Young, Zduriencik may be getting the last laugh. The Astros are clearly an up-and-coming bunch. The Rangers probably will fall to earth now, but only after losing close to 10 significant players, the latest being first baseman Mitch Moreland, who is expected to miss three months.
The AL Central has one team capable of being good, the Detroit Tigers, but they have failed to get started this year. The rest of the division has four tough teams to beat.
The East, while still having some of the larger payrolls in the AL, is certainly less as a whole than the AL West, and now may begin to suffer an inferiority complex when comparing itself with the Central.
That leaves one team as clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the AL -- the Oakland Athletics, with Billy Beane as general manager and Bob Melvin as manager. The best record in all of baseball since the beginning of 2012 is the A's at 229-158. The Braves are second at 222-163, the Cardinals are third at 218-170, the Nationals and Reds are tied for fourth at 216-169, and the Tigers are fifth at 214-169. For the record, after a June 8 loss to the A's, the Orioles have gone 209-176 during the same span.
Here are this week's rankings.
1. San Francisco Giants (42-21 overall record, No. 1 ranking last week)
2. Oakland Athletics (39-24, No. 2)
3. Toronto Blue Jays (38-26, No. 7)
4. Milwaukee Brewers (38-26, No. 4)
5. Washington Nationals (32-29, No. 10)
6. Los Angeles Dodgers (34-28, No. 3)
7. Atlanta Braves (32-29, No. 5)
8. Detroit Tigers (33-26, No. 6)
9. Baltimore Orioles (31-30, No. 12)
10. Los Angeles Angels (33-21, No. 11)
11. Seattle Mariners (33-29, No. 14)
12. St. Louis Cardinals (33-31, No. 8)
13. New York Yankees (31-31, No. 9)
14. Texas Rangers (31-32, No. 13)
15. Pittsburgh Pirates (29-33, No. 19)
16. Kansas City Royals (31-32, No. 17)
17. Miami Marlins (33-30, No. 18)
18. Colorado Rockies (29-33, No. 15)
19. Boston Red Sox (28-34, No. 16)
20. Minnesota Twins (29-32, No. 22)
21. Cleveland Indians (32-31, No. 25)
22. Cincinnati Reds (29-32, No. 23)
23. New York Mets (28-35, No. 21)
24. Tampa Bay Rays (24-40, No. 20)
25. Chicago White Sox (31-33, No. 24)
26. Chicago Cubs (25-35, No. 30)
27. Houston Astros (28-36, No. 26)
28. Arizona Diamondbacks (28-37, No. 29)
29. Philadelphia Phillies (25-36, No. 27)
30. San Diego Padres (28-35, No. 28)
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