O's to test road issues in second half
Squad hopes to improve consistency of play away from home
BALTIMORE -- No respite, no reprieve. The Orioles will come out of the All-Star break with a unique test tailored to their own profile. The club will play 23 games in 24 days after the intermission, an arduous stretch that will test its depth and its ability to play well away from Camden Yards.
The Orioles will begin the second half with a three-game series in Chicago that starts on Friday and, after that, they'll head to road series in New York and Boston. Baltimore will then play host to Kansas City and Boston before making a two-city trip to Detroit and Toronto. And here's why that's so noteworthy: The Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers all stand as having among the best home records in the American League, and the Blue Jays have played far better at home than on the road this season.
They're not alone: The Orioles showed a severe disparity in the first half, playing to a 26-21 record at home and a 14-27 mark on the road. And that disparity shows up in the statistics. Baltimore has a 5.96 ERA on the road -- which stands as the worst in the AL -- and a 4.16 mark at home. The Orioles also hit .237 and scored 167 runs on the road, marks that stand second-to-last in the league, contrasted with an AL-best .294 batting average in their own home park.
And if you look even closer, those splits affect nearly all of Baltimore's regular starters. Brian Roberts and Adam Jones are the players that show the least radical swings in performance based on location, but the rest of the heart of the order isn't as fortunate. Four players -- Aubrey Huff (.295/.228), Melvin Mora (.310/.204), Nick Markakis (.328/.247) and Ty Wigginton (.281/.236) -- show extreme splits that see them hitting more than 40 points better at home than on the road.
Luke Scott has been successful at both home and on the road, but he's been far better at Camden Yards (.323/.419/.633) than he has been elsewhere (.288/.333/.538). The split even affects rookies Nolan Reimold and Matt Wieters, who are both hitting in the .230's on the road and in the .280's at home.
Put all of that together and you get a team with plenty to prove on the road in the second half, not to mention a great opportunity to start that upward mobility immediately. The Orioles, who went 5-5 in their past 10 games before the All-Star break, are just 13-19 against division rivals this season. They'll get 12 more division games in this stretch alone, playing six times against Boston, three times against New York and three more against Toronto. Nine of the 12 will come on the road.
Baltimore, which has 41 road games and 34 home games left this season, has had a particularly tough time against Boston. The Orioles are just 1-6 against the Red Sox in 2009 and have been outscored 50-30 in the process, a showing that comes right on the heels of a 6-12 mark against Boston last season. Baltimore is also 3-6 against New York and 5-4 against Toronto, lending interesting perspective to its next few series against AL East opponents.
The Orioles, who played to a 9-13 record during the season's first month, have shown a modest improvement as the year has progressed. Baltimore went 14-15 in May and 12-14 in June, feeding into a 5-6 record thus far throughout July. And despite winning more series than they've lost, the Orioles still have a losing record, thanks largely to road series sweeps in Boston, Florida, New York, Toronto and Oakland. By contrast, Baltimore has just two three-game series sweeps to its credit.
If Baltimore is going to make a run in the second half, it will have to find a way to get its starters deeper in the game. The Orioles have seen their starting pitchers work the least amount of innings in the league by a slim margin, and consequently, they've seen their bullpen work more innings than anyone else. The four-day break may have take care of some of the resulting fatigue, but the O's can fall right back into trouble if they don't pitch well in the next three weeks.
Baltimore will play six games right after the break -- three against Chicago and three more against the Yankees -- before getting an off-day. After that, the squad will plow through 20 games before its next day off on Aug. 20, a difficult stretch followed by 18 consecutive games before the rosters expand on Sept. 1. Interestingly, despite that challenging segment of the calendar, the team will have four days off in September alone.
The Orioles have seen their share of success in the first half, and they'll undoubtedly have things to be proud of after the All-Star break. Now, though, their main attention has to be on avoiding the second-half swoons that have plagued them in recent seasons. Baltimore went 6-28 down the stretch last year, 11-28 in 2007, 10-20 in '06 and 14-28 in '05. The Orioles haven't finished strong since '04, a season in which they racked up their best record (78-84) since 1998.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.