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Zach Britton's Return Won't Help Orioles Unless Struggling Offense Improves

July 3, 2017
It's a nice thought that the Orioles will be able to declare their independence from the pitching woes that have troubled them all season as soon as Zach Britton rejoins the team July 5, one day after Independence Day and two months since he last threw a pitch in anger.

But it will be wishful thinking unless the ace closer can also inspire some offense from his struggling teammates. The Orioles' pitching problems have been well-documented, but the truth is that phase of the game has been no more than half the reason for the team's roller-coaster ride during the first half of the season.

While everyone points out the obviously defective plus-5.00 team ERA and the toll it has taken (the O's are 21-35 when allowing four or more runs), the offensive side has, for the most part, been able to skate its role in a prolonged slide. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the Orioles have won only 10 games while scoring three runs or less -- frankly, that's pretty much to be expected by most any team. What is most alarming is the fact that the Orioles failed to score more than three runs in almost half (40) of their first 81 games. The Orioles are constructed to score four or more runs (they are 30-11 in those games) more often than half the time.

It is safe to say if that trend continues, Britton and his friends in the bullpen won't be busy enough for the Orioles to hang on as contenders in the American League East. 

As bad as the Orioles' ERA is -- and it is the worst in the AL -- you could make a valid case for the value of starters who could go five innings and allow three runs (a 5.40 ERA if all the runs are earned) and then turn the game over to the back end of the bullpen. The brutal truth of the matter is Britton's absence has had little effect on the Orioles, because far too often games were out of hand before the sixth inning, and a good bit of that responsibility has to go to an offense that has sputtered out of the gate -- at the start of games as well as the season.

The Orioles have had to rely on their "optionable pitchers" far too often this year, and that's never a good sign because it means manager Buck Showalter is getting into the part of his pitching staff he'd rather avoid. The reason he'd rather avoid it is the same reason why there are so many "optionable pitchers" -- unfavorable results.

Putting early runs on the board won't overcome all of the club's pitching woes, but this offense is not designed for the "three runs and a cloud of dust" offense, if you'll pardon a little gridiron jargon. It is an offense that is supposed to put up the kind of crooked numbers that have become a trademark of the starting rotation.

The Orioles gave up four or more runs 56 times in the first half of the season -- 15 more times than the offense was able to produce four or more runs. You would expect those numbers would have to be reversed for the second half of the season to be meaningful.

Jim Henneman can be reached at