Hitting. Pitching. Defense.
MLB teams that consistently master these three categories usually find themselves in the thick of every pennant race.
Through the first 32 games of the 2013 season, Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles have achieved this end with fine balance.
Fresh off winning seven of 11 games in a tough West Coast swing, Baltimore’s balance on offense, pitching and defense has resulted in a 19-13 record.
Here is a breakdown of the Orioles' performance by each category.
In 2012, the Orioles slugged their way to putting runs on the board. Only the New York Yankees belted more home runs than Baltimore’s 214 bombs.
Yet the Orioles batted just .247 as a team, which was 20th in the major leagues.
But so far this year, Baltimore has posted a much healthier balance of power, consistent contact and clutch hitting.
Currently, the Orioles are hitting .259 as a club. On the surface, this does not seem particularly high, especially when compared to the Detroit Tigers (.285) and the surprising Cleveland Indians (.272).
But a closer look reveals a Baltimore team that is very capable with the lumber. Per ESPN statistics, the Orioles are third in the major leagues in hits (286), doubles (64) and total bases (469). They are fourth in runs (159) and RBI (153).
Baltimore is also fifth in baseball in home runs (39) and sits in the top 10 in the league in both slugging (.425) and OPS (.747).
More impressive, according to MLB.com statistics, the Orioles are batting .281 with runners in scoring position. This is sixth best in baseball.
The Birds are also batting .287 as a team with runners in scoring position with two outs. This is good for fourth in the league.
Last season, the Orioles’ pitching staff was by far one of the most fluid in the league. This was truer of Baltimore’s starting rotation than the bullpen (which often carried the torch for this 93-win ballclub).
Yet here we are in early May. And all indications point to an Orioles’ starting rotation that has finally begun to solidify itself.
Like Baltimore’s team batting average, the Orioles' 3.88 team ERA does not look overly impressive. After all, this staff’s ERA is 15th in baseball. Not to mention, the Orioles starting rotation’s 4.48 ERA is 19th.
Yet for the early struggles, Orioles’ fans can see this rotation starting to jell much earlier than expected.
Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman have all pitched well enough to lock down the first four spots in Baltimore’s rotation.
The big question mark for the Orioles, however, is that fifth spot in the rotation.
But good news for the Birds. According to the Baltimore Sun, 25-year-old rookie right-hander Steve Johnson looks like he will return from injury to claim this spot soon.
Johnson, who hails from Baltimore, impressed Orioles fans last year. In 12 appearances (four starts), he posted a 4-0 record with a 2.11 ERA.
Of course, Baltimore’s corps of relievers has been stellar as usual. The Orioles’ pen currently sports a 2.79 ERA, which is sixth in baseball.
While Pedro Strop has struggled so far, Brian Matusz has found his niche as a seventh-inning reliever. Placing Matusz (1-0, 2.84 ERA) before setup specialist Darren O’Day (2-0, 1.65 ERA) and All-Star closer Jim Johnson (1.13 ERA, 11 saves) will further strengthen Baltimore’s already ironclad bullpen.
Baltimoreans pulled their hair out last season, watching the Orioles defense fumble baseballs like crazy.
While Baltimore’s defense certainly improved down the stretch to the postseason, this club nonetheless committed 106 errors in 162 games. Baltimore’s .983 fielding percent was amongst the league’s worst.
But how have things changed in 2013? With much-improved defense on the corners in Manny Machado (two errors in 98 total chances) and Chris Davis (one error in 264 total chances), Baltimore’s defense has taken significant steps forward.
With 10 team errors and a .991 fielding percent, the Orioles own the third-best defense in the league. Only the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks have been better.