The Orioles have been the feel good story of the American League East, with a division championship last season and two playoff appearances in the last three seasons. It's also the team that turned "put a bird on it" into something cool.
We talked to Camden Chat's editor, Mark Brown, about the Orioles and their coming series with the Astros.
1. Jimmy Paredes appears to be J.D. Martinez 2.0 for the Astros. He is batting .322 with a 17 extra-base hits and 25 RBIs in 37 games thus far in 2015. Paredes has already pulled his career WAR up to replacement level in just one quarter of a season. Is there any you can attribute to his success this season? He showed none of this skill in the Astros organization, other than being a raw talent with too many mental errors.
Mark: So far this season, Paredes has seemed like he might be the latest Orioles one-year wonder who arises from a career on the track to failure to have a good or even great season. Past editions of this player have included Steve Pearce last year and Nate McLouth back in 2012. They get one good year and only one good year. The Orioles like giving second chances to players who've shown flashes of talent but never really put things together. It doesn't seem to be an awful philosophy.
Paredes hasn't been hitting for as much power in May as he did in April and he's presently in a 1-for-21 slump. Maybe he's got another hot streak in him again that will blast him back into the stratosphere. More likely he is on his way back down to earth, though.
2. Talking about another former Astros, Bud Norris is coming off the disabled list after a recent spat with bronchitis. He has had a rough start to the year, 9.88 ERA in six starts in 2015. Does Norris still fit into the O's plans as a starter if he continues to struggle or will he make way for Dylan Bundy or Hunter Harvey when the time is right?
Mark: I don't think I'm alone among Orioles fans in hoping that Norris' trip to the disabled list would be the last of him in the Orioles starting rotation. Aside from the bronchitis, Norris has simply looked awful since spring training started and hasn't given even a glimmer of hope of turning it around. He's even gotten bombed in his minor league rehab action against non-big league hitters. I don't know why his modest success from last year has totally evaporated, but it seems like it has.
The O's don't seem to share my opinion. Asked about it recently, Buck Showalter said something like he's not going to give up on a guy who won 15 games for the team last year. Whatever happens with Norris, it doesn't look like Bundy or Harvey will be the replacements. Harvey is on that "six weeks of rest after which he'll probably need Tommy John surgery" path and Bundy's on some weird path back from his own Tommy John that has involved him getting light work at Double-A. Norris was replaced in the rotation by Mike Wright, and after Wright's first three starts I think most O's fans would be glad to have that stick.
3. Are you at all worried about Adam Jones' ankle? He is sitting out for his second straight game and is listed as day-to-day with an ankle sprain. The O's always seem to have a "next man up" mentality but Jones has been rock this past few seasons.
Mark: The last time that Jones didn't start in back-to-back games was in the middle of September 2011. It doesn't look like Jones is set for the starting lineup in Monday's game either. It's definitely worrisome because it's next to impossible to imagine a successful Orioles season that doesn't have Jones playing a big part. The Orioles say it's not a DL situation, but then, they wouldn't say it was until they put him on the DL. Hopefully a few days rest is all he needs to get back in good health.
4. Speaking of Baltimore's "next man up" mentality. The O's lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis this off season and are still right in the thick of things in the East. Does this mentality start with Buck Showalter or the players? Do the O's have a pressing need they need to address at the deadline?
Mark: It's a team effort between Showalter and GM Dan Duquette to put the best team they can on the field every day and I think that's where it all starts. I don't know if it's a "next man up" mentality so much as a mentality that, if you can play, they will find a way to get you to play and maximize your chances of success. That's the theory, anyway; the Orioles' attempts to address the corner outfield situation have not been working out so far this year. It makes it tough look at Cruz's numbers with Seattle and then to watch a bunch of guys who aren't hitting and can't really field either.
Of course, with Cruz, it was not much of a question about how he'd perform THIS year, but rather the third and fourth years of the contract. Maybe they should have signed him anyway, I don't know, but I understand why they didn't. I also understand why they didn't bring back Markakis and while his .394 OBP going into Sunday would look nice atop the lineup, he has no power any more and his AVG/OBP are probably inflated by BABIP luck (.360 this year, has been ~.300 every year since 2011). When that regresses, he'll have little value as a player.
5. I have to admit I hadn't been watching much of Baltimore when I started the series preview last week. I was suprised to see Ubaldo Jimenez's number this season, he's 3-3 with a 3.14 ERA in nine starts. After being a disaster in 2014, are you surprised by his turnaround?
Mark: Jimenez's turnaround has been very surprising after watching him struggle so mightily last season. I guess I should have had more faith that Duquette and company knew what they were doing when they signed him in the first place. We saw nothing of that potential last year and it was bad enough that it seemed like the signing would end up being a complete bust. The kinds of people who only talk about baseball because they're waiting for it to be football season again were even clamoring to put Ubaldo in the bullpen or just release him even with three seasons left on his contract.
Obviously, it was too soon to just give up on a pitcher who's had as much success in his career, even if he's also been inconsistent, as Jimenez has. The O's have retained Ramon Martinez, brother of Pedro, as a special pitching consultant and it seems like he's some kind of Ubaldo Whisperer. I don't really know what the secret is, but I'm definitely hoping that he keeps the success going.