Photo courtesy of Patrick McDermott/Getty Images.
Entering this season, Orioles fans had one mission on their mind: to break .500 for the first time since the wire-to-wire 1997 season, 15 years ago.
No one thought that they would win the AL Wild Card by defeating the two-time American League champion Texas Rangers—not to mention battling their rival New York Yankees in the ALDS after finishing with just 69 wins last season.
Regardless of how far the Birds advance this October, it’s been a very successful season and there is nothing for them to be ashamed of. This year has been full of surprises, and there’s only more to come in the future.
Baltimore has a great farm system, and there will be more young stars coming through the organization over the next couple of seasons as they bolster their core group. It’s an exciting time to be an Orioles fan, and this is just the beginning of a new age in Charm City.
Check out the five biggest reasons why the Baltimore Orioles will be back in the playoffs next October.
Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
There is no doubt that one of the major reasons why the Birds are where they are is because of the man at the helm, Buck Showalter.
After he led the 2010 misfits to a 34-23 record over his final two months of the season, fans knew Showalter was here to make a difference. Before he arrived in Baltimore on August 2 a little over two years ago, the then-last-place Orioles had won just 32 games all year.
Showalter is the type of manager who understands how to build a team from the bottom up. He doesn’t worry about one particular season and how they fare that year. His goal is to build a strong, lasting squad.
Last year, in his first full season as the manager, the Birds finished with a 69-93 record. This season, they finished with the exact opposite record, which is a 24-game win differential as he led them to the first winning season since ’97, when they notched 98 victories.
Every team he has managed, he’s been able to turn around that team within two full seasons. In his first year as a manager with the Yankees in 1992, they went just 76-86. However, the following season, they improved by 12 games and went from fourth place to second place.
In the next two seasons, they finished in first and second place, respectively. And as we all know, the Bombers won four of the next five World Series.
In his second go-round as a manager, he really did himself in as he undertook the struggling expansion Diamondbacks in 1998. That season, they dropped almost 100 games as they finished with a dismal 65-97 record and last in the NL West.
The following year, they improved by 35 games as they notched 100 wins in just their second season in existence. They won the West and quickly made a name for themselves. In his last year with the club in 2000, they finished 85-77, which was good for third place in the West.
As we all know, after he left, the Diamondbacks went on to win the 2001 World Series against the Yankees.
Finally, in his last tenure before arriving in Baltimore, he had the tough assignment of turning around the struggling Rangers. After Texas finished fourth in the AL West for three straight seasons from 2000 to 2002, he assumed the role of manager in 2003.
Although they struggled in his first year, he built them up for success and they have been one of the best teams in the majors over the last three years. In 2003, they finished with a 71-91 record.
However, in his second year, they improved by 18 games by winning 89 games and finishing third in a very tough division. Over the next couple of seasons, they finished with 79 and 80 victories, respectively.
He is definitely one of the major reasons why the Birds have had success this season, and he has built a strong foundation for the future in Baltimore.
Photo courtesy of Patrick McDermott/Getty Images.
The second reason why the Birds will return to the playoffs next year is because their roster is full of young, talented, determined athletes.
The Birds called up Manny Machado in August, and he’s been great since making his major league debut. In his first week with the club, he was awarded the Player of the Week after smashing three home runs and driving in seven RBI.
Since then, he has cooled off a bit, but he’s played superb third base and is definitely a cornerstone for the Orioles in the future. He delivered an RBI single in Friday night’s wild-card win over the Rangers, making him the youngest Oriole ever to get a hit in the playoffs (20).
Let’s not forget that star Adam Jones, who smashed a career-high 32 home runs this season, is still just 27 years old and only continues to get better with experience. Last season, he set a career high with 25 jacks, and the two years before he delivered 19 bombs each year.
Chris Davis is just 26 years old and put up record numbers this year. He finished with a team-leading 33 home runs and 85 RBI, and helped the Birds down the stretch as he jolted seven home runs over his final seven games. He had never hit more than 21 home runs in a single season, but it seems he found his groove with the Birds this year.
The Orioles backstop, who has been the rock and core of the team this year, is just 26 years old as well. Matt Wieters delivered career highs in both home runs (23) and RBI (83) and is one of the best catchers in the game. He will only continue to get better.
And who can forget the 19-year-old phenom Dylan Bundy? Although he only pitched in two games, he looked very sharp over his 1.2 innings pitched. He might not make the club out of spring training (although he probably will), but he will join the big club at some point next year.
Of course, there are other young stars who will be dominating their way through the minor leagues over the next couple of years for the Birds. They have a young core, including Nick Markakis (28), Nolan Reimold (28), Brian Matusz (25) and Tommy Hunter (26), among others.
Photo courtesy of Ronald Martinez/Getty Images.
After everyone realized that the Birds were actually for real this season and possibly could make the playoffs, their major criticism was that they are too young and inexperienced to play well in October.
Well, after two full years under Showalter and this year in the playoffs, I think it’s safe to say that the Birds will have some experience in important, pertinent games.
Entering this October, Joe Saunders, Randy Wolf, Jim Thome and a couple of others were the only Birds who had previously played in the postseason. Regardless of how far the Orioles make it this year, they will return next year with playoff experience under their belts.
Although it won’t be a wealth of playoff knowledge, they will be set for the future, especially under Showalter's wing.
This season has opened numerous doors for the Birds. They were chosen to finish the regular season in the cellar for a fifth consecutive year, and ended up battling the Yankees for first place in the East, defeating the Rays, Jays and Red Sox.
There is no doubt that the Birds have gained an immense amount of knowledge and experience this year, and they will harness that to help them improve next year. Showalter is a mastermind and will find a way to make this club even better for the future.
Look how far they have made it this year without the experience of a playoff team (very similar to the 2001 Diamondbacks).
Photo courtesy of Rob Carr/Getty Images.
Not only have the Orioles made it so far this season, they have done it without a couple of their longest-tenured teammates. Both Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis have been out this season due to injury, more so Roberts.
The second baseman has not been a regular in the lineup since 2010 after he suffered a concussion sliding into first base on May 16 of last year. He made a brief return this season, but suffered season-ending hip surgery and will return next season.
Finally, his concussion symptoms are gone and he should be back next year. But who knows how he will perform after missing almost two full seasons.
The 34-year-old was one of the best leadoff hitters in all of baseball and showed great power over the last five years or so. In 2009, he delivered a club record 56 doubles, smashed 16 home runs and drove in 79 RBI out of the first slot in the lineup.
He is a doubles machine as he’s accumulated 339 over his tenure with the Birds (11 years, though he’s played in just 115 games over the last three seasons).
Another future star who has been missed due to injury is Nolan Reimold. In 16 games this season, he was batting .313 with five home runs and 10 RBI before suffering a neck injury that resulted in season-ending surgery.
He will be back next year. However, like in Roberts’ case, who knows how he will perform after missing at least an entire season. He was one of the top hitting prospects in the Orioles farm systems and has been up and down with the big league club since 2009.
Markakis has been the Orioles' rock in right field since making his major league debut back in 2006. Before suffering a broken left thumb on September 8, he was batting .298 with 13 long balls and 54 RBI and was thriving out of the first spot in the order.
He might be back if the Birds are able to make it far into the playoffs this year. However, he will definitely return for spring training.
Photo courtesy of Cooper Neill/Getty Images.
The last reason why the Birds will return next year to the playoffs is their strong fan base. You might not think that this could be a contributing factor, but anyone who has been to an Orioles game over the last month or so knows what I’m talking about.
I went to the first ALDS game Sunday night against the Yankees, and although the Birds blew up in the ninth inning, they played a great, competitive game.
The fans were electric. The stadium was jumping. I’m sure the team could feel the power throughout the crowd.
From the starting lineups and introductions to the final pitch, Orioles fans were on their feet or the edge of their seats bursting with joy. Just to see the Birds battle in the playoffs for the first time in 15 years was an experience of a lifetime.
I have been to at least 30 or 40 Orioles games in my lifetime, and many of them have been against the Yankees or Red Sox, but there have never been more Orioles fans than Yankee fans.
Usually, Yankee fans outnumber the home fans because they are stringing together another impressive year and heading to the playoffs again.
But last night, you could feel something special. Baltimore has a great fan base and if the Orioles (Showalter and Dan Duquette) produce a winning team, fans will show up and support the team.
The Orioles have a great future, and as long as they continue to play well, the fans will be right there with them.
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