While the Red Sox and Yankees have gotten their annual share of attention from the media, and the Rays have deservedly gained coverage, thanks to their surge to the top of the AL East, Aubrey Huff, Brian Roberts, and Nick Markakis all have had stellar seasons for the Baltimore Orioles that has gone virtually unnoticed.
The Orioles (60-65) currently occupy last place in baseball's best division, thanks in large part to their lackluster pitching (4.81 ERA, 13th in the AL), but their offense (637 runs scored, fourth in the AL) has been up there with the best, and most of the contributions are coming from these three players.
The trio holds three of the top-12 spots for position players in the AL in VORP (value over replacement player), with Huff ranking fourth (49.2 runs), Roberts 10th (41.6 runs), and Markakis 12th (41 runs). By comparison, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays have just two players in the top 12 (Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Youkilis).
Despite their great years, none of these Orioles were named to the American League All-Star team, as reliever George Sherrill was the Orioles' lone representative.
Huff, who has primarily been used as the team's designated hitter this year, has had the best year of the three and was also the least expected of the three to produce at their current level.
Despite previously successful seasons with Tampa Bay (OPS of .884, .922, and .853 from 2002-'04), Huff had struggled in the previous three years (OPS of .749, .813, and .779 from 2005-'07) and has switched teams two times in that span.
This year, the 31-year-old Huff has turned into his old self, leading the Orioles in OPS (.927), slugging percentage (.562), home runs (27), and total bases (266), while having the second-best batting average (.303) and weighted on-base average (.379).
As well as being fourth in the AL in VORP, he is also sixth in home runs, eighth in OPS, sixth in slugging percentage, ninth in weighted on-base average, 15th in batting average, and second in total bases.
The 24-year-old Markakis, in his third year in the majors, has continued to improve steadily and is becoming one of the best outfielders in the league. His on-base percentage of .404 leads the Orioles and is the fourth best in the AL.
He also leads the team in weighted on-base average (.383, seventh in the AL), batting average (.304, 12th in the AL), and walks (80, third in the AL). He has put up decent power numbers as well, with 17 home runs on the year. He ranks second behind Huff in OPS (.898) and total bases (237). He also plays well defensively, ranking second among AL right fielders in RZR (.914).
The final, key offensive contributor for the Orioles this year is second baseman Brian Roberts. Roberts is second on the team in on-base percentage (.378), and despite having eight home runs on the year, he has an adequate slugging percentage (.470), and is fourth on the team in OPS (.848).
He is also third on the team in weighted on-base average (.363, 19th in the AL).
The 30-year-old Roberts also leads the league in doubles (45) and is a key contributor on the base paths, with 30 steals on the year (fourth in the AL).
While this season has not been a success for the Orioles, due to their pitching and difficult division, these three players still deserve credit for their great years, which have propelled the AL's fourth-best offense.