If you want to write off the Orioles, go ahead. They've lost three straight games at home to the Red Sox, and they're currently clinging to a one-game lead over the Tigers and Astros for the second wild card slot. The Mariners (two games) and Yankees (two-and-a-half games) aren't far behind. Really, they've been up and down for much of the season.
Some people dismissed the O's chances of contending before the season, when they failed to reel in Dexter Fowler and didn't do a whole lot to address their pitching staff. Many wrote off their chances of reaching the playoffs when Chris Tillman was placed on the disabled list in August and it was unclear if he'd pitch again this season. O's starters, while scary to watch at times, have mostly held up their end of the bargain since, or at least provided what could have reasonably been expected. Much of the credit goes to Kevin Gausman, the O's best starting pitcher, and Ubaldo Jimenez, who is on a current run of being adequate (no small feat).
Instead, the offense has been the club's main problem since the all-star break. And unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be much Buck Showalter can do about it with so little time left in the season.
The Orioles are built on power and don't have much speed or on-base abilities, so it's not like they can start deploying an efficient small-ball or contact-oriented attack overnight (even if you think it would help). In fact, the O's only have two players with on-base percentages over .350: Hyun Soo Kim (.381) and Manny Machado (.351). And Kim and J.J. Hardy are the only regulars who have struck out less than 15% of the time. The Orioles have some very good power hitters, but as I noted yesterday, the O's are only American League team with a collective OBP under .300 in the second half. A huge drop-off in batting average on balls in play has also contributed to a lack of runs.
Clearly the O's need more wins, in a hurry. And they must score more runs in their remaining 10 games. But how can they turn things around? I could only think of a couple minor solutions to get the O's out of their current funk. There's really no panacea, though, and if more hits don't start dropping in or clearing the fence, the O's are in serious trouble.
Juggle the batting order
Making major lineup changes is usually a desperate move, but perhaps that's required in this situation (even if lineup construction does not move the needle much in terms of run expectancy). The O's aren't getting on base. They've scored two runs or fewer in their past five games, and they haven't scored more than six runs in a game since September 10. Holding the Red Sox to five runs each in three straight games should at least keep the O's competitive enough, but that hasn't been the case. Getting held down by David Price is one thing. But the current version of Clay Buchholz? Yikes.
So how about this: Move Adam Jones out of the leadoff spot. He's been useful there overall this season (117 wRC+), but he's still miscast in that role because he does not get on base enough. The Orioles have a better option to use there: Kim. The following lineup is intriguing vs. right-handed pitching:
Kim, Machado, Alvarez, Jones, Davis, Trumbo, Schoop, Wieters, Hardy
Kim has been the Orioles' best OBP weapon, and there's certainly been nothing wrong with using him out of the No. 2 spot. But it'd give the lineup a different look, plus Machado should be batting second anyway.
I'd also bump up Alvarez to either third or fourth -- I tried to go with alternating right- and left-handed batters, as Showalter is wont to do. Not only does Alvarez mash right-handed pitching, but he's been the O's best hitter in the second half (in limited duty, to be fair). You can either have Jones in the cleanup spot or sixth, with Davis (who for a chunk of the season has been dealing with a sore left hand, which visibly affects his swing) sandwiched between them.
Things get trickier against left-handed pitching. Kim doesn't play against lefties and has not been effective in limited duty. He should probably still get more of a chance against them, but there are worse things than having an effective platoon bat. For a lineup with several powerful right-handed bats, many of them do not perform well against southpaws. That's one reason why the O's acquired Steve Pearce, and losing him for the rest of the season stings. Many O's are having terrible statistical seasons against lefties, and it's not like Joey Rickard is walking through that door (with a healthy thumb, at least). One possible option against lefties could be...
Give Trey Mancini a chance
Who wouldn't like to see a few more home runs from Trey Mancini? He can't possibly top the thrill of his first major league homer, but he could try. Mancini is probably limited to DH duties unless the O's want to give Davis a breather, but he could be an option in lineups against lefty starters. That means Mark Trumbo would have to be in right field more than the O's would like, but that might have to be a necessary risk to score some extra runs.
Who else on the O's bench would you really want to see more of? Michael Bourn is really the only option, mainly because he's usually decent against right-handed pitching (though not this year) and he's preferable defensively to the O's uninspired options. There's not much that's exciting about Nolan Reimold, Drew Stubbs, or Ryan Flaherty. Mancini should get a shot, and I wouldn't be surprised to see his name in the lineup against Price tonight.
Bunt more to beat the shift
This is typically something fans harp on, as if it's incredibly easy to do. Surprise: It's not! When it works, it looks fantastic and it's easy to wonder why more power hitters don't do it. And yet, when it doesn't work, it looks horrible and gives the opposition a free out.
There's no debating that the Orioles need more baserunners, and it's not the worst idea to do whatever it takes to get on base. But what the O's need even less of is to give away outs in opportunities to hit the ball a long way.
More sacrifice bunts and small ball
That's really it. The Orioles were supposed to have one of the three or four best offenses in the AL, and right now they rank sixth in runs scored. And whether some people find this team's offensive attack aesthetically displeasing or believe contact-lacking lineups are always doomed to fail in the playoffs, the O's offense is supposed to be better than this.
Many of the batters who hit well in the first half are going to have to start producing again, or the O's could very well find themselves home during the postseason.