10 Biggest Reasons Baltimore Orioles Are Contending Again

Josh AronsonCorrespondent IAugust 18, 2013

10 Biggest Reasons Baltimore Orioles Are Contending Again

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    In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles won their first postseason game since 1997. And while the city of Baltimore was buzzing with their success, the Orioles have been equally as impressive in 2013. Many of the pieces have remained the same, but with the emergence of Manny Machado, and the consistent long ball from Chris Davis, the Orioles have found themselves in another pennant race.

    As of August 18th, the Orioles are five and a half games out of first place and two and a half games out of the final wild-card spot. Very much in the playoff hunt, the Orioles will rely on defense, home runs and the success they had in 2012 to get back to playing October baseball.  This article will take a look at the 10 biggest reasons why the Orioles are contending again.

    The criterion for this list was thoroughly composed by looking at the biggest strengths of the Orioles this season.  The majority of the strengths were built upon from last year, while some are unique to 2013. 

Honorable Mention: Starting Pitching

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    The Orioles have had 14 starting pitchers so far this year. In a rotation that is led by Chris Tillman, who has a 3.70 ERA, the rest of the staff has been doing just enough to allow the offense to win games. If Tillman can get to 20 wins (currently at 14) the Orioles may have solidified their number one pitcher for the postseason.

     

    2012 Staring Pitching ERA: 21st 4.42

    2013 Starting Pitching ERA: 25th 4.28

     

10) 2012 Success

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    After a 15-year playoff drought, the Orioles finally broke through in 2012.  The success they had a year ago has carried over to the 2013 season. The Orioles came into the season expecting to compete, and that is exactly what they are doing. They have an air of confidence; they expect to win every time they take the field.

    2012 was also the first winning season for the Orioles since 1997. The Orioles have used the 2012 season as a stepping-stone for future success, and we are seeing that first hand in 2013.

     

    2012 Record: 93-69 Winning Percentage: .574

    2013 Record: 67-56 Winning Percentage: .544

9) Bullpen

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    Last season, the Orioles had a top-notch bullpen, led by closer Jim Johnson. Johnson led the majors with 51 saves and was named to his first All-Star game. This season Johnson again leads the big leagues in saves; however, he is also tops in blown saves.  While Johnson is going through a rough patch right now, (three straight blown saves) if he can find his footing come September, the Orioles have one of the best closers in the game. 

     

    2012 Bullpen ERA: 5th 3.00

    2013 Bullpen ERA: 16th 3.60

     

8) Health

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    The Orioles have been very fortunate in 2013 with the health of all key players. Manny Machado, Chris Davis and Adam Jones have yet to miss a game this year due to injury. Staying off the disabled list is crucial during a pennant race, and so far, this season the Orioles have done just that.

    Machado and Davis are both top 10 this year in wins above replacement (WAR) for position players, posting a 5.5 and a 5.4 respectively. The Orioles must stay healthy if they want to bring the playoffs back to Baltimore.

     

7) Outfield Play

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    The Orioles outfield this season has been tremendous. Nate McLouth, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis have provided consistent hitting, fielding and chemistry.  Jones has already surpassed his RBI total from last season with 89, which is a new career-high. McLouth has committed zero errors on the year and has become the Orioles best leadoff batter, providing a spark at the top of the lineup.

    Markakis has been very consistent in right field, and has one of the strongest arms at the position. The Orioles will rely heavily on their talented outfield down the stretch and don’t be surprised to see them carry the team to the playoffs again this year.

    2012 Combined BA for McLouth, Jones and Markakis: .284

    2013 Combined BA for McLouth, Jones and Markakis: .285

6) Chemistry

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    The Orioles have one of the best clubhouses in the league. Win or lose, the mentality remains the same, and much of that can be attributed to manager Buck Showalter. The Orioles also have a great young nucleus of players that provide chemistry on and off the field. With the exception of second baseman Brian Roberts, the Orioles return eight starters from the playoff team a year ago.  With a 162-game schedule, chemistry is an underrated component to a team's success. Look for the Orioles to benefit from this chemistry not only in 2013, but for several years to come. 

5) Buck Showalter

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    Buck Showalter has been nothing short of a savior for the Orioles franchise. In three years, he has completely turned the team around. In the 12 seasons preceding 2010, the Orioles finished fourth or worse in the AL East 11 times. Under Showalter, the Orioles finished second in 2012, and currently are sitting third this year.

    Showalter has brought baseball back to Baltimore. He is one of the Orioles’ biggest strengths, and as long as he is in the dugout, you can count on the Orioles to contend.

     

    Buck Showalter Record as Orioles Manager: 262-241

     

4) 3B Manny Machado

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    You could make a strong argument that Machado should be number one on this list. He is one of the most electrifying young players in the game, and at 21, is widely considered the best fielding third baseman in the big leagues. Not only is Manny shutting down the hot corner, he is also bringing it with his bat. Machado leads the majors in doubles with 43, and while he has cooled off since the All-Star break, he is getting great production at the number two spot in the lineup.

    If Manny can continue to make head-turning plays at third, and keep his average around .300, look for him to be a regular in the All-Star game. Machado has an incredibly bright future in Baltimore and will be the face of the franchise for the next decade. 

    2012 Orioles 3B Batting Average: .235

    2013 Manny Machado Batting Average: .297

     

3) The Long Ball

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    Hitting home runs has not been a problem this year for the Orioles. Sure it helps to have Major League-leader Chris Davis batting clean-up, but the Orioles are getting timely home runs from the entire lineup. J.J. Hardy currently leads all shortstops with 22, and Adam Jones leads all centerfielders with 25. Just like in 2012, the Orioles are back hitting the deep ball again.

    However, the Orioles do not live and die by the long ball. Many homers are added insurance runs, and with a number of players capable of going yard, it is extremely hard for pitchers to pitch around players like Davis and Jones. Baltimore is going to use their home run hitting ability to push the Red Sox for an AL East title.  

    2012 Orioles Home Runs: 2nd 214

    2013 Orioles Home Runs: 1st 163

2) Defense

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    One word: Consistency

    The Orioles currently have the highest fielding percentage in baseball at .992, and lead the majors in fewest errors with 39. Led by five Gold Glovers, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Nate McLouth and Nick Markakis, the Orioles not only make the spectacular plays look easy, but also are as consistent as it comes on a daily basis. 

    The Orioles defense has been phenomenal this year and has been the backbone of the team up to this point. If the Orioles can continue this historic run of error-free baseball, look for a deep run into October.

    2012 Orioles Team Fielding Percentage: 20th .983

    2013 Orioles Team Fielding Percentage: 1st .992

1) 1B Chris Davis

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    Chris Davis lands the number one spot on the list for a number of reasons. His 45 home runs and 115 RBI’s are both tops in the majors. And if it weren’t for the incredible play of Miguel Cabrera, he would run away with the AL MVP. Davis has been the Orioles' best player this year. Night in and night out, he is not only bringing it with his bat, he currently is tied for second among first basemen with a .996 fielding percentage.

    Davis has always been a home run or strikeout player; however, this year he is batting .306 and has 35 doubles to go with his homers. Davis has been exceptional this year for the Orioles and if he continues to deliver not only home runs, but also Gold Glove caliber first base play and extra base hits he has a great shot to be the first Orioles MVP since Cal Ripken Jr. in 1991.

    2012 Chris Davis Stat Line: .270 Avg. 33 HR 85 RBI

    2013 Chris Davis Stat Line: .306 Avg. 45 HR 115 RBI