The Orioles reached the unofficial halfway point of the 2014 campaign with a whimper rather than a bang, losing, 12-7, to the Tampa Bay Rays June 29 during game No. 81 of the season. The Rays, who entered the series with the worst record in the major leagues, took three out of four from the Birds.
The series loss emphasized a troubling trend for the Orioles in 2014: their struggles to win games at home. The Birds, who are 42-39 overall, dropped to 19-21 at Camden Yards. Their .475 home winning percentage is the lowest in the majors of any winning team (pending the result of the Yankees' June 29 contest).
With 40 of their 81 scheduled home games in the books, the Birds' apparent home-field disadvantage can no longer be chalked up as a small sample-size fluke. And it's not difficult to identify the culprit for the Orioles' home struggles -- it's the offense.
As a team, the Orioles entered June 29 with an OPS 85 points lower at home (.689) than away (.774), and many of the Birds' hitters have hit worse at Camden Yards than on the road. Some O's regulars, such as Chris Davis and Adam Jones, have better offensive numbers on the road, though not to an extreme degree. But the home/road splits were more significant for several other Orioles regulars entering June 29.
Nick Markakis, home (174 plate appearances): .276/.322/.387/.708
Markakis, away (196 PAs): .314/.388/.424/.812
J.J. Hardy, home (152 PAs): .264/.298/.306/.604
Hardy, away (142 PAs): .318/.333/.424/.758
Nelson Cruz, home (159 PAs): .245/.314/.476/.790
Cruz, away (178 PAs): .321/.382/.673/1.055
David Lough, home (61 PAs): .143/.213/.196/.410
Lough, away (69 PAs): .241/.323/.379/.702
Perhaps no player is a more eye-popping example of the Orioles' home futility than rookie second baseman Jonathan Schoop. On the road, Schoop has put up a .254 average, .729 OPS and six homers in 143 plate appearances.
But Camden Yards has been a house of horrors for Schoop. In 103 plate appearances entering June 29, he batted .156 with a .206 on-base percentage, .188 slugging percentage and .393 OPS -- and no homers. It's probably no surprise that many O's fans have grown frustrated with Schoop's hitting this season, based on his play in front of fans on the Birds' home field.
In fact, of the Orioles' regular starting lineup, only one player -- Manny Machado -- is hitting noticeably better at home than on the road this year. He entered June 29 with a .726 OPS and five homers in 106 PAs at home, as opposed to a .588 OPS and one homer in 122 PAs on the road. Machado boosted those home numbers further with a two-run homer June 29.
Unfortunately for the Orioles, they're likely to be without Machado for most or all of their four-game home series against the Rangers June 30-July 3. MLB is expected to rule June 30 on Machado's appeal of his five-game suspension, and he'll serve his suspension as soon as that decision comes down. That will likely make the Birds even more hard-pressed to score runs in front of the home fans.
The Birds' seven-run outburst during their June 29 game improved some of those offensive numbers, though they scored several of those runs after the Rays had put the game out of reach. The Birds scored four runs -- three earned -- off Rays starter Alex Cobb, marking the first time they'd plated more than three runs against a starting pitcher during their last 10 home games.
During the first six games of the home stand against the White Sox and Rays, opposing starters held the Orioles to 10 earned runs in 37.2 innings (a 2.39 ERA). That group of pitchers included lesser-known, untouted hurlers such as Hector Noesi, Alex Colome, Jake Odorizzi and Erik Bedard (Bedard, who hadn't worked more than six innings during any start this year, pitched into the eighth inning against the Orioles June 28).
The O's had trouble doing damage against starting pitchers at Camden Yards during their previous home stand -- when Toronto hurlers Drew Hutchison, R.A. Dickey and J.A. Happ each threw quality starts June 13-15.
The Birds' saving grace, offensively, during their current home stand has been their late-inning rallies against relievers. During the first seven games, the O's have scored 16 earned runs in 20.2 innings (a 6.97 ERA) against opposing bullpens. But the Birds can't always count on being able to rally back late during games. Often, they put themselves into too deep a hole with their struggles against starters.
The O's haven't been able to string together many clutch hits during the first seven games of their home stand. They've gone 10-for-56 (.179) with runners in scoring position. Because of that, the Birds have become overly reliant on home runs to carry their offense. During those seven games, the Orioles scored 23 of their 30 runs via homers. When they're not hitting the long ball, the O's are struggling to find other ways to score.
In a weak American League East division, the Orioles have a prime opportunity to take the division by the horns -- especially with the AL East-leading Blue Jays also slumping (they lost three of four games to the White Sox June 26-29). But the Birds likely won't be able to achieve that needed breakout until they start winning -- and hitting -- on their home field.