What a roller coaster first half to the 2012 big league season it has been for the Baltimore Orioles.
This usual doormat of the AL East has dug its tattered fingers into the side of MLB’s muddy well and muscled from the depths of despair.
Who would have thought that halfway through this season the Orioles would boast a 45-40 record?
Sure Buck Showalter and Co. are seven games behind the New York Yankees. But looking at a mug of Natty Boh half-full, if the season were to end today the Orioles would be in the postseason.
Even sweeter, Baltimore has a better record than the Boston Red Sox. While not far behind the Orioles in the standings, the Red Sox have had their share of turmoil this season.
Whether it be clubhouse drama, a ton of injuries, or growing pains with new manager Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox are struggling to stay afloat.
Yeah, I know this is the Red Sox we are talking about—we know they will be right there in the end. But for now, let Baltimore’s fans relish five clear advantages this team has over Beantown’s finest.
How else can one explain how Baltimore keeps winning this season?
While the team has seen an eight-game improvement through 81 games over last year, this team boggles the mind. As written in a prior article, trying to figure out the Orioles is like trying to nail gelatin dessert to a skinny tree.
Offensively, Baltimore has been inconsistent at best. Hallelujah for the long ball, the Orioles are third in the league in home runs (106). Yet beyond this nicety lies some ugly Orioles hitting, as reflected below.
Baltimore also struggles mightily with runners in scoring position. Per ESPN stats, the Orioles are 21st in baseball in RISP (.243), and 22nd in RISP with two outs (.216). With bases loaded, Baltimore is batting a measly .215. Not to mention the team has struck out 690 times. Only three other teams in baseball have been dispatched more.
Meantime, the Red Sox are in the top 10 in nearly all the above categories.
Defensively, the Orioles have been equally unimpressive. Through 85 games, this team has committed a league leading 75 errors. This is four more errors than the Tampa Bay Rays, who are 29th. Baltimore’s fielding percentage is .977, which is also good for last in the league.
By comparison, the Red Sox are seventh in baseball, having committed just 47 errors though 85 games. The club's .986 fielding percentage is good for sixth in the league.
Yet strangely, at the end of the day the Orioles are five games above .500 while Boston sits at .500.
This info in mind, it seems like Baltimore is—as like Bon Jovi liked to sing—“halfway there, livin’ on a prayer.”
In other words, Baltimore has a clear advantage over Boston in divine intervention, for now.
But then one looks at Baltimore’s bullpen, which has been the team’s saving grace this season.
With the Orioles’ starting rotation in flux, Jim Johnson and friends have stepped up to the mound and delivered in grand fashion.
Currently, Baltimore’s bullpen is second best in baseball behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Per ESPN stats, the Orioles pen is 17-6 with a 2.75 ERA in 278.1 innings of work. The pen has struck out 217 batters to just 86 walks. Opponents are hitting just .231 against this unit.
By comparison, Boston’s pen is 10-12 with a 3.13 ERA in 235.0 innings. It has a.235 BAA, and has struck out 217 and walked 81.
Still, Boston’s potent offense makes things much easier for the sixth ranked bullpen in the league. Baltimore’s bullpen does not have this luxury and has had to be stellar to keep the Orioles in contention.
Hence, the Orioles have a clear advantage over the Red Sox in this category.
Baltimore also has a crystal clear advantage in managers.
While Bobby Valentine has been more of the show in Boston than his ballplayers, Buck Showalter has been the quiet, behind the scenes glue that has held the Orioles together.
To be fair, Valentine has done a great job bonding Boston in the face of a laundry list of injuries.
Nonetheless, at the same time Showalter has nowhere the star power Boston has. While the Red Sox boast stud players like Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Clay Buchholz, Baltimore has a team composed primarily of journeymen trying to find their niche in the league.
No need to tie up the lines on this topic here. But giving Robin Ventura credit, Showalter should be a front-runner for the AL Manager of the Year for pulling the right strings to help this team stay afloat.
Yes it is true the Red Sox have hot prospects Jose Iglesias, Matt Barnes and Jackie Bradley Jr.
But Baltimore has three very cool prospects that give the Orioles a third advantage over Boston.
I call them the three Ys—Bundy, Manny and Johnny.
Surely Orioles fans are well aware of gunslinger Dylan Bundy, who is Baseball America's No. 1 prospect.
Surely Orioles fans are also aware of shortstop phenom Manny Machado, who is No. 9 on the same list.
But what many of Orioles faithful may not know is that deep in Baltimore’s minor league system plays an outfield prospect with potential to be a star one day.
His name is Johnny Ruettiger. He is the nephew of the famous Notre Dame University walk-on Rudy Ruettiger, according to Jim Callis of Baseball America.
Currently, Ruettiger plays for the Frederick Keys in the Class-A Advanced Carolina League. In 69 games this season, this 23-year-old left-handed hitter is batting .291 (75-for-258) with 13 doubles and 22 RBI. Ruettiger’s OBP/SLG/OPS is .374/.341/.715.
In the last 10 games, this Illinois native is batting .349 (15-for-43).
The very thought of Ruettiger walking to the plate at Camden Yards one day, to the sound fans chanting “Rudy…Rudy…Rudy,” or “Johnny…Johnny…Johnny,” automatically gives Baltimore the edge over Boston in this category.
Fifth and finally, Baltimore has a distinct mascot advantage over Boston.
Seriously, Boston, who renamed Oscar the Grouch Wally before handing him the mascot job for the Red Sox?
Alright, alright Wally the Green Monster is not that bad. As a baseball fan, I think he is actually pretty a cool mascot.
But Wally is nowhere near as cool as the Oriole Bird.
With his sleek orange bill and one quarter ton of feathers, this kind switch winging creature is anything but a birdbrain. So what if the Oriole bird devours gigantic bowls of bird seed, he is nonetheless an uncannily fun part of every Baltimore home game.
I have to say that if Wally and the Oriole Bird were to race, Wally’s hiked up shorts and rogue shoelaces would render him useless against this black and orange wonder bird of prey.
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