Markakis walks off against Toronto.
After a 2012 campaign in which almost everything went right and very little went wrong, the Baltimore Orioles are continuing to do most things the correct way. Most predicted that the Orioles' crazy record in close games would not repeat itself and the team would regress.
But as the calendar hits May for 2103, the Baltimore Orioles are sitting at 16-11 and in third place in the American League East, behind the Red Sox and Yankees. After going 29-9 in one-run games, winning nearly every extra-inning game and beating the Texas Rangers in the wild-card playoff, the O's had to come crashing back to earth in 2013, right?
Well, as the great Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend.” Their current record puts them on pace for a 96-66 record.
Did you know that the O's are actually 4-5 in one-run games, and 1-2 in extra innings? So the pundits were correct in their predictions of Baltimore not being able to repeat their late inning success. But this year’s version of the birds is a better team overall, and the magic from last year might not be needed as often.
Everyone knows that run differential is the most telling statistic to accurately measure how good a team is, right? That is why the 2012 Orioles were so lucky, but this year’s Orioles are a ho-hum plus-26 through 27 games. The reasons for this are quite clear.
The offense has carried the team through the first month, scoring the third most runs in baseball, trailing only Atlanta and Colorado. Adam Jones and Nate McLouth are tied for the MLB lead in runs scored with 22 apiece, thanks in large part to Chris Davis’ monster April.
“Crush” Davis moved over to first base after the departure of Mark Reynolds in the offseason. Davis platooned last season at first base, outfield and DH while having a career year at the plate. With a slash of .270/.326/.581 in 2012, Davis knocked in 33 home runs and 85 RBI. He finished the season hot and has elevated his game to an All-Star level this season.
With nine home runs and 28 RBI already, Davis is on pace for 54 dingers and 168 RBI. While that is very unlikely to happen, a nod to the All-Star game and candidacy for MVP are all very real possibilities for Mr. Crush. I have seen two restaurants offering Crush Davis cocktails already this spring. If nothing else, that has to mean something.
Possibly the biggest reason the O’s have become more stable is Manny Machado. If you are a fan of web gems, you must check out Machado holding down the hot corner. He has in just 78 career games proved to be one of the most dynamic young players in the league. His glove reminds Baltimoreans of Brooks Robinson.
He already had a signature play that will be on his highlight reel forever, and he is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak, with a .304 average. Machado will only get better from here, and he has a chance to supplant Evan Longoria as the best third baseman in the AL East. Since he was called up last season the Orioles' record is 47-31…yeah.
The outfield that patrols Camden Yards most nights is arguably one of the best in MLB. McLouth looks as though he has returned to the form that made him an All-Star in Pittsburgh, batting .346. Jones' bat continues to improve (despite his glove regressing), and Nick Markakis is doing his usual thing in right field, despite a small dip in his extra-base hits. Three Gold Glovers who hit around or above .300 sounds pretty good to me.
While the offense and bullpen have been mostly sunshine and rainbows, the O’s still have plenty of room to improve in order to make the ballclub even better for the remaining five months of the season. Matt Wieters, Hardy and the revolving DH door need to improve dramatically at the plate, while a healthy Brian Roberts would surely be nice to round out the order. Roberts was 5-for-12 in the first three games this year before getting injured yet again.
The sixth inning has quickly become a curse for Orioles starting pitching. It seems as if every night the starters struggle and cannot make it out of the inning without allowing several baserunners to cross the dish. Whatever the problem is, manager Buck Showalter and pitching coach Rick Adair will have to figure it out quickly before the bullpen wears down dramatically.
Do not be surprised to see Baltimore try to trade for a top-of-the-rotation starter before the July trade deadline. It is something they opted not to chase in the offseason, but it could be the final piece to put them over the hump. Out of Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz, one or more of them could be involved in a trade deal.
Jim Johnson and Darren O’Day have become two of the best relievers in the game, and as long as they remain healthy the O’s should feel comfortable when leading into the late innings. Dan Duquette, executive vice president of baseball operations, and Showalter have proven to be smarter than most since coming to Baltimore, and this year’s team looks to be a real contender to do some damage in the late fall, as long as the starting pitching can stretch a bit further into games.
The 16-11 record through 27 games represents exactly one-sixth of the 162-game season. If the O’s play the same way through the entire season their record projects to finish at 96-66, which has been good enough for a playoff berth the last eight seasons.