Let's get one thing straight. In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles did not make the playoffs because they were lucky. They made the playoffs because of their exceptional bullpen and their resiliency in extra-inning games. Having a good bullpen and winning close games doesn't make you lucky.
Yes, the Orioles were historically good in one-run games and in extra-inning contests. In one-run games, the Orioles were 29-9, which, according to ESPN Stats and Information, is the best winning percentage in baseball history amongst teams to play at least 30 one-run games. In extras, the O's went 16-2 and won all 16 games in a row.
Despite this and their 93-69 record in 2012, the Orioles are the underdog in the AL East coming into 2013. The gambling website, bovada.lv, has set the O's over/under at 78.5 wins, the lowest over/under of any of the AL East teams. The O's also have the highest odds of winning the division, as they are +850.
Because of their tendency to win close games, the Orioles' only scored seven more runs than they allowed (712-705). This run differential, along with the Pythagorean expectation, provides many analysts, including ESPN's Ben Lundbergh, with the proof they need to argue that the O's were lucky in 2012 and must return to the bottom of the AL East in 2013.
But does run differential really prove the O's were lucky? Not really.
For example, imagine if two teams play in a four-game series. Team A wins the first three games, each by one run. Team B wins the fourth game 10-1.
So, Team A is 3-1 with a run differential of -6. Team B is 1-3, but their run differential is +6.
According to the Pythagorean expectation, Team A is lucky. Why does winning close games make you lucky? Doesn't that make you clutch?
The Orioles basically did what Team A did. Except instead of a four-game series, they did it for nearly a whole season.
However, things were different for the Orioles in September, and that's what a majority of the media seems to ignore.
In September, the Orioles went 19-9, scoring 153 runs while conceding 103. The O's did this while using eight different starters in that span and without the likes of outfielders Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold.
Coming into 2013, the Orioles are virtually unchanged, only losing Mark Reynolds and not acquiring anyone noteworthy. This is another huge reason why the media, such as Stan McNeal of Sporting News and ESPN's Ben Lundbergh, predict the Orioles for a setback in 2013.
But why fix what's not broke?
The Orioles' projected lineup and rotation for 2013 is nearly the same lineup they used last September. Except, instead of Mark Reynolds, Robert Andino and a time-split of Lew Ford and Endy Chavez, they now will likely have Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts and Nolan Reimold. On paper at least, that's an improvement.
They also have an incredible amount of young pitching depth. Pitchers like Zach Britton and Steve Johnson may be stuck in the minors or the bullpen because of the 10-pitcher battle for the fifth rotation spot this spring—whilst top-prospects Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are seemingly waiting in the wings.
According to Jayson Stark of ESPN, O's GM Dan Duquette is aware of this. Last season, according to Stark, the Orioles used 52 different players, made 178 roster moves and had 122 different starting lineups. It took until September to complete, but Duquette was happy with the team he put together:
"It was a good team at the end of the year...I would also say that we won a lot of those one-run games and two-run games and extra-inning games when we had a lesser team. I think we had a better team at the end of the year than we had at the start of the year."
Where will the Orioles finish in the AL East in 2013?
Buck Showalter did a tremendous job throwing lineups together on the fly and seems to have installed a winning mentality inside the Baltimore clubhouse. If the Orioles can stay healthy and bring some stability to their lineup and rotation, they should be able to be compete for another playoff run.