With the All Star Break upon us, now is the perfect time to reflect back on the somewhat exciting and somewhat disappointing first half of the 2008 season.
1. Adam Jones - this is why trades are GOOD. Jones was aquired in the Erik Bedard trade and while a slow start bogged him down, Jones has bounced back within the last month to bring his numbers up to a respectable .281 AVG, .408 SLG and a .732 OPS. Jones' defense in CF is stellar, and he's just getting started. It's nice to know that the Orioles have found their answer for CF for what should be the next 10 or more years.
2. Nick Markakis - continues to shred in his third year, what is looking to be his best season yet. Despite only having 14 HR and 50 RBI, Markakis has a .401 OBP and is slugging .492. His average, like always, is right around .300. Like Jones, Nick is sure to be a staple in the OF for years to come. Sign the man to an extension now.
3. Aubrey Huff - despite having a poor 2007 campaign, Huff has bounced back in a big way, with 18 HR, 59 RBI, and a .895 OPS. Not only is he helping the O's offense be better than expected, he has raised his non-existent trade value to something that should fetch the O's a nice return if they decide to trade him at the deadline.
4. Jim Johnson - at the beginning of the season, Johnson was a fringe prospect who was slated to be a forgotten face in the Norfolk starting rotation. But after getting called up early on in the season, Johnson has been mostly dominant as the O's set-up man with a 2.03 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. Johnson has showed signs of slowing down a bit lately, and his K/BB ratio is not impressive, but watch Johnson pitch. His pitches have excellent movement and his demeanor is perfect for close-and-late situations. There has been talk of moving Johnson to the rotation, but I think it is a bad idea. Keep him where he is for now.
5. Luke Scott - to some, Scott was a throw-in player in the Miguel Tejada trade, but people who followed him in Houston knew that Scott would turn into a decent surprise in Baltimore. And he has. Even though he's already 30, this is only Scott's fourth year in the majors (second full season) and has solid numbers (14 HR, .808 OPS) despite being platooned somewhat with Jay Payton in LF. Whether he is kept or traded, Scott will help the Orioles in many ways. Plus he is a great guy to boot.
6. Jeremy Guthrie - many thought Guthrie would be a flash in the pan the way that Jose Mercedes and Rodrigo Lopez were, after being taken off the scrap heap and inserted into the O's rotation. He had a great 2007 season despite not receiving much run support and constantly watching the bullpen blow his leads, and became the team's #1 after Bedard was traded during the offseason. Guthrie has proven that 2007 was no fluke and the Mercedes and Lopez comparisons should end immediately. Guthrie, despite not receiving any run support and constantly watching as the bullpen blows his leads -- again -- has kept his cool and compiled 3.49 ERA with 83 K, 37 BB and a 1.19 WHIP.
1. Shortstop - Luis Hernandez was supposed to be a light-hitting defensive specialist, and it turned out he hit better than he fielded. Freddie Bynum couldn't hit and made costly errors, Alex Cintron was solid before getting injured, and Brandon Fahey is... well... Brandon Fahey. Whether Andy MacPhail signs or trades for a SS in the near-future, something has to be done about the massive black hole at the SS position.
2. Melvin Mora - currently has a .688 OPS and his once-stellar defense at 3B is starting to slip. Add to that his usual Mora-mistakes are only increasing. Mora has proven that he's no-longer starter material, but his loyalty to the O's makes it hard to relegate Mora to the bench where he belongs. Luckily, Aubrey Huff is playing more and more at 3B, so it looks like Mora could be headed there anyway. To add insult to injury, Mora tied the record for men left on base yesterday with 11. And to think Mora used to be a great hitter with men on.
3. Ramon Hernandez - many hoped that Ramon's disappointing 2007 season was a fluke. Turns out it's not. Meanwhile, prospect Matt Wieter's is tearing up the minor leagues and making it hard to keep him there. Ramon should be traded or released shortly to make room for Wieters.
4. George Sherrill - while he racked up saves early in the season, Sherrill was treading thin ice the entire time, and over the last month, that ice has cracked. Sherrill has blown 5 saves on the year and during the last 3 weeks has seen his fair share of implosions, including allowing two-back-to back game-losing home runs, each with 2 strikes and 2 outs. Sherrill is the O's lone All-Star, and it's bad timing for him to start blowing saves.
5. Radhames Liz and Garrett Olson - Liz and Olson were the 2 pitchers in line to join the rotation when spots opened up, and when Adam Loewen went down with an injury and Steve Trachsel was DFA'ed, they both got there chance after having success in AAA Norfolk. After a few solid starts after being called up, both pitchers have struggled to the tune of a respective 7.57 and 5.65 ERA. Since there is no one else on the farm ready to step in, Liz and Olson are going nowhere, so the struggles should only continue.
Jay Payton - Trembley is giving him AB's at the expense of Luke Scott, who is ready to be an everyday starter. Payton still mashes LHP, but his lazy and sloppy play in LF has cost the team on several occasions. He should be traded as soon as possible. Meanwhile, prospect Nolan Riemold, currently heating up in Bowie, is ready for the big time.
Kevin Millar - sure, Millar is a great clubhouse leader and oversaw the new "Orioles Magic" video, but his numbers are mediocre. If there were anyone even slightly deserving of playing 1B in the O's system, Millar would be traded or benched. And since there is no one in the system deserving of the 1B duties, Millar is going nowhere.
Daniel Cabrera - after a solid string of starts, many thought Cabrera had finally turned a corner. But then Cabrera regressed back to what he always was - a flame thrower with bad mechanics who usually doesn't know where the ball is going. So far he's improving on his horrid 2007 season, but he's still not the dominant pitcher that everyone hoped and expected he'd become, especially after his great start.
At 45-48, the Orioles are light years ahead of where everyone expected them to be at the beginning of the season. Sometimes that is hard to remember. But despite their surprisingly mediocre play, one can't help but feel a little disappointed. The Orioles set the tone for the 2008 season by mounting comeback win after comeback win, only to watch as their luck reversed itself. Now they are blowing games they should win. If they were getting out matched, that's one thing... but the Orioles are still competitive in most games, but instead of finding new ways to win, they are now finding new ways to lose.
What was lost in all the winning and excitement was that 2008 was supposed to be about rebuilding, and because of the early season success, fans are now reluctant to make the kinds of trades that got them here in the first place. Let's hope Andy MacPhail is not. Aubrey Huff and Brian Roberts should both fetch the O's a nice return in trades and should be shopped aggressively. Add to that, get Riemold and Wieters up here and prepare them for their roles on the 2009 team now.
Why wait? 2008 is more than half way over. And while we may be a little further along than we thought, there is still a long way to go.
How do you feel about the 2008 team so far?