Baltimore Orioles: Breaking Down Why They Are Serious Title Contenders

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Baltimore Orioles: Breaking Down Why They Are Serious Title Contenders

1983 was a magical year for the Baltimore Orioles. 2013 has the makings of a magical year as well.

The Orioles haven’t captured a championship since 1983, but that could change this season. Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and the other big bats are leading the charge, and so far, the team is doing fairly well.

Davis has cranked 37 home runs this season, and the Orioles are fourth in runs scored. In addition, the team leads the league in slugging percentage (.445). The pitching staff has struggled a bit, but the offense has propelled Baltimore to a 54-43 record.

However, despite their solid record, the Orioles trail the first-place Boston Red Sox by 4.5 games in the AL East. They are in third place, as they also trail the Tampa Bay Rays by 2.5 games. They are in a bit of a hole, but with their offense and their improved pitching, they should be able to climb right back in the race.

Baltimore's starting pitching has brought it down, but with Wei-Yin Chen back from the DL and Scott Feldman now in the mix, the rotation appears to be fine.

Feldman was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Cubs to bolster the staff, and he will continue to help. So far, Feldman has two quality starts with the Orioles (in three overall starts).

With Chen anchoring the top of the rotation and Feldman, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and Jason Hammel filling it out, the Orioles are in good shape. Tillman made the AL All-Star team (as a replacement), and Gonzalez has a 3.48 ERA and has held opponents to a .232 batting average.

Is Baltimore's rotation good enough?

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If Hammel, who finished the 2012 season with a 3.43 ERA, can return to his 2012 form, the Orioles will be ready to go. All of their starters have promise or have done well this season, and all are primed to help the team reach its ultimate goal.

The same goes with the offense, which has carried the team so far. Baltimore is stacked throughout the lineup, as the team has seven great hitters and two serviceable starters. Second base is still a question mark, but the offense has talent in the outfield and the infield.

Six players have driven in 43 or more runs, and Davis has knocked in an insane 93 runs. He went into the All-Star break by hitting home runs in four consecutive games, and it happened for the second time this season. Davis has broken onto the scene as one of the league's best hitters, and he will continue to boost the Orioles.

However, he's not the only one chipping in. Markakis, Jones, Davis, Manny Machado, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy and Nate McLouth occupy the main seven slots in Baltimore's order, and all seven are capable hitters. The seven helped the Orioles make the ALDS last season, and they will carry the Orioles farther this season.

Last season in the ALDS, the Orioles lost in five games to the New York Yankees. Baltimore came close to making the ALCS, but a poor performance from closer Jim Johnson and some tight losses cost the Orioles.

This year, Johnson has 34 saves, and he has spearheaded a stellar bullpen. The Orioles' bullpen is 17th in ERA, but Pedro Strop, Alex Burnett and other players who are currently on other teams have dented the group's 3.68 ERA.

Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day (among others) have been remarkable, and Johnson has a 1.74 ERA in his last 23 appearances.

If the bullpen can hold up and avoid injuries, it will be ready to handle talent-laden offenses. And Baltimore's talent-laden offense will be able to handle top pitching.

The Orioles appear to be a complete team on paper, as they also have a top-tier manager in Buck Showalter. The product on the field has done a nice job, but it hasn’t tapped into its full potential. Chen’s injury cost the pitching staff, and it brought the whole team down.

However, with the pitching staff now intact, the Orioles have just one hole. Second base is a position of need, and they could pursue a veteran like Michael Young to lead the team and occupy the position. But even if the Orioles shy away from making any more trades, they will still be hard to beat.

They are much better than the successful 2012 team, as Davis, Machado and others are performing much better. The offense as a whole has been great, as most hitters have improved upon their 2012 stats. Hardy and Wieters aren't getting on base a lot, but they are driving in runs.

In other words, the Orioles have a stacked lineup.

If injuries don’t hamper the club, it will be ready to dominate in the postseason. The Orioles have improved in every aspect of the game, and that doesn’t bode well for their beatable opponents.

While the Orioles don't have many holes, the Rays, Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Oakland A’s, their main competitors, are flawed. Bullpen issues have plagued the Tigers, Rays and Red Sox, and the A’s offense has gone cold at times.

The Red Sox have scored 93 more runs than their opponents, but they are due to regress. Lots of Red Sox and Rays players have exceeded expectations, but a lot of them will also fail to keep performing well.

There’s a good chance that the Red Sox fail to win the AL East, which would be great for the Orioles. The Red Sox aren’t perfect, and they aren’t better than the Orioles.

How will the Orioles' season end?

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Baltimore's other main competitors, the A’s,, Rays and Tigers, are all phenomenal teams, and they (among others) are going to contend for the AL pennant and the elusive World Series trophy. However, the Orioles have patched up their main holes, and they could end up cruising into the postseason. 

And, if all goes well, they could have their way in the playoffs as well.

The city of Baltimore was treated to a magical journey into the playoffs last season, but this season’s journey could culminate in something greater than a postseason appearance: a championship.

The Orioles will have to avoid injuries and keep performing, but winning it all is certainly possible.

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