In the Sun today, Jeff Zrebiec takes a look at five second half storylines to watch for the Orioles. He raises the right issues, and I'd like to address each before we get to the end of the All-Star break.
1. Will manager Dave Trembley be back?
Personally, I lean towards bringing in a long-term solution for the job; we've been over the reasons that I don't think Trembley is the right person to manage the team as its competitive window opens. Had the Nationals not fired Manny Acta this week, I would have advocated for a managerial trade this offseason.
2. Can they avoid the second half swoon?
While I'd like to say that the young pitching and exciting position players can help the Orioles turn their record around in the second half, consider these facts: The Orioles face an opponent's winning percentage of .524 in their remaining 74 games, and 40 of those games are on the road. That's a difficult schedule, but at least they're done going to the west coast. Still, this is team that looks poised to hold its own in the second half, even if they won't have the benefit of 18 games against the National League East. I'll make the bold prediction that Orioles winning percentage will roughly mirror their Pythagorean first half (39-49, .443).
3. Will the trade winds blow?
It would be nice to see a bopping third baseman or first baseman make their way to Baltimore, but I just don't see it happening. First, general managers have become much more astute at discerning the forward value of their young players, making it less likely that other clubs would trade legitimate prospects without significant return. Second, the Orioles just don't have that much trade bait which would be attractive to other teams. Aubrey Huff is a free agent this offseason, Luke Scott is 31, and George Sherrill isn't the closer many Baltimore fans perceive. Each is a nice player that does things to help a team win, but none is worth a top-notch prospect. While I hope to be proven wrong, I doubt MacPhail makes any blockbuster moves over the next two weeks.
4. Where will the rotation lead?
This is perhaps the most intriguing question of the second half, and one that is likely to influence the answers to each of the other questions on this list. Rich Hill's last start not withstanding, he's really struggled recently, and Jason Berken just doesn't have the stuff necessary to be a starter in the AL East. Given the injury to Koji Uehara, David Hernandez will likely be back soon, and it seems that Chris Tillman is knocking on the door. I predict either Hill or Berken is out of the rotation by the end of the month, replaced by Tillman, and Brian Matusz earns a promotion to Norfolk. From there, could Jake Arrietta and Matusz be far behind Tillman? Service time issues will come into play, as will workload management and MacPhail's plans for the 2010 rotation, but if Berken and Hill both bomb and Uehara is slow to return from injury, the cries for the young studs will grow deafening.
5. Rookie of the Year?
Nolan Reimold and Brad Bergesen have been great stories of the 2009 season, especially as second tier prospects for the organization. This is a banner year for AL rookies, though, and the ballot is sure to be crowded, with players like Gordon Beckham, Elvis Andrus, Brett Gardner, Scott Richmond, Ricky Romero, Rick Porcello, Jeff Niemann and Andrew Bailey all likely to merit serious consideration. Even in that impressive field, I'll place my bet on Matt Wieters posting a huge second half and winning the award.
Answering those five questions really comes down to this: what happens with the Orioles young pitching over the next six weeks? If the young kids prove they are ready for the spotlight in 2010, will MacPhail decide that it's time to bring in a tactitian to focus on wins and losses? Will the staff complement an exciting core of position players and make the Orioles a dangerous spoiler down the stretch? Will a realistic shot at contention next season cause the O's to keep Huff, Scott and Sherrill, or deal them for a corner bat? While the results on the field for the rest of July and August will be important, the real intrigue will happen on the third floor of the warehouse.