The resurgence of the Baltimore Orioles during the 2012 season surprised almost everyone who pays attention to MLB, and though they silenced critics by forcing a game five in the ALDS against the New York Yankees, said unexpected resurgence only leads to an even bigger question:
Can the O's repeat their success next season?
Though the Orioles have many good pieces in place, much of their insane success in one-run and extra-inning games will be hard to duplicate in 2013. Any team would have trouble matching those ridiculous numbers again.
I expect many baseball fans and critics to argue that the Orioles won't be able to make the playoffs again in 2013 simply because of what was stated above. They'll claim the O's need to add a couple big-time players in order to compete again.
However, I also believe what the O's will lack in luck in 2013, they'll make up for in skill. They're not going to have to make a big splash in the free-agent or trade market this offseason in order to remain a competitive team in 2013. And here's why.
By 2012, Showalter had the O's playing competitive, team-oriented, winning baseball.
In 2013, Showy will keep it that way.
Arguably the best manager in baseball in 2012, Showalter turned the O's into a feared team in a tough AL East, and there's no doubt in my mind that he can maintain that level of play with the team he has. He's united a young clubhouse while nurturing the growth of many of those players.
Is seems like Buck has grown out of his old ways of being too controlling and eventually wearing out his welcome, as Orioles management has stated they'd like to extend their manager being that 2013 is the last season on his three-year deal.
The players love to play for him. A happy clubhouse is a winning clubhouse.
Orioles' young phenom Manny Machado had a fantastic couple of months after his late-season call-up, as he showed he can handle the bat, but most importantly, shored up the defense at third base for the team, an area that had been a problem all season.
A full season of Machado will make the O's a much better team overall as his bat grows and he becomes more comfortable playing at the hot corner. Having Machado over a full season will virtually be like acquiring a key impact everyday player.
What the stats don't show is the spark that Machado brought to the O's upon his arrival. He helped keep the rest of the team in a happy place.
When Machado arrived, the O's were playing good ball for the first time in 15 years. Coming up in the middle of that is going to give Machado the mindset that that's how Baltimore baseball is supposed to be, making him a better player mentally as well as physically.
Machado is going to be a big part of the Orioles' success in 2013, and for years to come.
The AL East has changed so much over the last half-decade.
The Tampa Bay Rays rose from obscurity to become a feared club. The New York Yankees have gotten older yet somehow remained very good. And the Boston Red Sox have gone from a dominant team to a mediocre one. Even the Toronto Blue Jays just pulled off a blockbuster that they believe will push them over the top next season.
However, every team has its faults, including the Orioles. The Rays have the deepest pitching staff in baseball, but can't hit their way out of a paper bag. The Yankees' age is bound to catch up with them at some point. The Sawx are a mess, and Toronto still has to prove itself.
The AL East will probably never not be a competitive division, but it's not going to remain the same. This is prime time for the Orioles to jump at the chance to take their division, and they've got most of the pieces of the puzzle in place to do it.
The Orioles and the AL East seem to have caught up with each other.
Two key cogs in the Orioles' machine are center fielder Adam Jones and catcher Matt Wieters.
Both are two-time Gold Glove winners at their respective positions. Both are above-average bats in comparison to their counterparts, and the two of them figure to still have some room to grow. And both are team leaders.
If they continue to grow, they're going to be bona fide stars in the not-too-distant future. If they stay where they are, they're still a pair of quality major-leaguers that any team would love to have.
At times, one or both of these guys carried the Birds during the 2012 season. Wieters' play behind the plate and game-calling skills are invaluable, while Jones is an all-around good player with a fantastic clubhouse personality.
It's hard to imagine a bad Orioles club with these two leading the team both on and off the field.
It's obvious that the Orioles need a No. 1 starter. I'm not going to argue that.
However, considering the lack of free-agent pitching talent on the market, if the O's were to acquire a big-name starter, they'd be better off doing it through trade. And of course, that would mean unloading the farm system, which is never a smart thing for this club to do.
The O's don't have a large quantity of prospects in their system, which is why they need to stand pat with any big splash trades this offseason. What they do have, though, is top-quality.
Young starter Dylan Bundy (pictured) is expected to be called up and inserted into the Orioles' rotation sometime during the second half of the 2013 season. Same goes with their most recent first-round pick, Kevin Gausman. Not to mention the development of Chris Tillman last season.
The Birds could have top-of-the-rotation starters by the end of the 2013 season, without ever having to make a deal to bring one in.
Sometimes, the best move to make is to not make a move at all.
Nick Markakis was on his way to a very solid rebound season before he missed a good chunk of the 2012 campaign with his first two career stints on the disabled list.
Can you imagine how much a healthy Markakis would have helped the O's in September and into the playoffs, setting the table for the likes of Jones and Chris Davis?
It's safe to assume that Markakis will be healthy and full-go come the 2013 season, as he had never been on the DL in his first six major-league seasons. Every player not named Cal Ripken Jr. is due for some bad injury luck every now and then. But throughout his career, Markakis has been a trooper, and figures to continue to be just that in 2013 and beyond.
With Markakis' talent for raking doubles and getting on base, he'll help the team immensely in the OBP department and by scoring runs next season.
One reason the Orioles were able to win so many games, and so many late and close games, is because of a strong bullpen slamming the door.
Anchored by closer Jim Johnson (pictured), many of the members who helped maintain a strong bullpen for the team, such as Darren O'Day, Troy Patton, and Luis Ayala, expect to be on the roster in 2013.
Granted, relievers are spotty from season to season, so it's not a guaranteed science. But it is reasonable to expect a solid performance from the O's bullpen yet again next season, and that can only be good for the team's winning percentage.
A strength that can be counted on can only help a team's morale, and for the Orioles, their bullpen will provide a fantastic boost.
It'd be foolish to expect the Orioles to repeat the same success they had in 2012 without any additions to their team.
Adding to the team doesn't necessarily have to be with big names. The best route for the Orioles to take this offseason would to be building depth, making calculated and solid moves, and adding to the core that they already have in place.
Tying up payroll and/or giving up too many prospects wouldn't be smart for the team to do in the short or the long term. It may be smart for the club to do next offseason, but with what's available this time around, they'd be smart to lay off the big-time temptations.
The Baltimore Orioles will be a competitive team next season, without the need of big-time acquisitions prior to the season's start.