The Orioles have won a lot of close games, including 4 consecutive extra innings wins on the road. The O’s have a 1.50ERA in extra innings, and lead MLB in hits and runs in extra innings. Their tenacity has kept them in almost every game this season, not giving up until their last out of the game. The Orioles have been winning with solid pitching, power hitting, and a confidence that has long eluded this franchise. This promising young and overachieving team reminds me of the 1989 “Why Not?” Orioles.
The Orioles are 2nd in MLB with 41hrs, and 3rd with 54 doubles. They’re 4th in the AL in hits. They have 5 players hitting over .300 (Reimold, Wieters, Jones, Andino, Paulino) and one at .299 (Chris Davis). The lineup is filled with homerun threats: Jones 8, Wieters 7, Hardy 6, Reimold & Davis 5. The entire starting lineup has been contributing. Every night someone else comes through in the clutch, showing a true team effort. Hardy and Reynolds’ bats have finally heated up. Robert Andino has been a pleasant surprise offensively and defensively. Nolan Reimold, when healthy, has finally become a Major League power hitter. The starting lineup is really solidifying:
LF- N. Reimold (DL) .313, 5HRs, 10RBIs
SS- J.J. Hardy .217, 6HRs, 10RBIs
RF- N. Markakis .236, 3HRs, 11RBIs
CF- A. Jones .304, 8HRs, 17RBIs
C- M. Wieters .301, 7HRs, 18RBIs
1B- C. Davis .299, 5HRs, 14 RBIs, 1-0 & 0.00ERA pitching
3B- M. Reynolds .195, 2HRs, 9RBIs
DH- W. Betemit .262, 3HRs, 13RBIs
2B- R. Andino .309, 2HRs, 10RBIs
As great as Baltimore’s starting lineup has been, they’ve received very poor hitting from their bench. They really don’t have anyone to replace Reimold in LF. Veterans Endy Chavez and Nick Johnson have been busts. Rookie Ryan Flaherty is on the team for his defensive versatility, not his anemic bat. Backup catcher Ronnie Paulino has been the one bright spot on the Orioles bench. He only made the Opening Day roster due to an injury to Tayler Teagarden, and Paulino has been pleading his case very well ever since. Third catcher Luis Exposito is only on the team so that Paulino’s hot bat can be used elsewhere in the lineup, such as DH. Exposito will be gone as soon as Reimold returns in 2 weeks.
The Orioles are reportedly in negotiations with former Oriole’s 3B/SS Miguel Tejada, who would add some nice power and defensive versatility to the O’s ineffective bench. Those rumors have also lit a fire under current 3B Mark Reynolds, who has been on a tear the last 3 games. Miggy’s not the player he used to be, but he’d be an immediate improvement to the current bench:
R. Paulino .300 3RBIs
N. Johnson .128, 5RBIs
E. Chavez .127, 1RBI
R. Flaherty .167, 1RBI
L. Exposito .000 (only 1 AB)
Baltimore has the 2nd lowest team ERA in baseball at 2.78. The O’s starting rotation is 4th in the AL with a 3.56ERA and an 11-7 record. In the offseason, the Orioles traded away their most consistent starter, Jeremy Guthrie. In exchange, they received starter Jason Hammel and late reliever Matt Lindstrom. That controversial trade has paid big time dividends. Hammel has been fantastic, leading the team in wins and having the best ERA in the rotation. Lindstrom has yet to surrender an earned run. Jake Arrieta has pitched much better than his record shows. Taiwanese import Wei-Yin Chen has been brilliant in his first month in MLB. Tommy Hunter has pitched well in 4 of his 6 starts. Former 1st round draft pick Brian Matusz has been shaky at best, still unable to return to his 2010 form. If he doesn’t soon make the transition from “prospect” to “star”, Baltimore will need a different #5 starter. Fortunately, they have young starting pitcher Zach Britton close to returning from injury, making it do or die time for Matusz.
J. Arrieta 2-2, 3.52
J. Hammel 4-1, 2.09
T. Hunter 2-1 5.00
W. Chen 2-0, 2.76
B. Matusz 1-3, 4.67
Orioles relievers have MLB’s best bullpen ERA at 1.41 and have an 8-2 record. They’ve given up an MLB lowest 18 runs, only 15 of them earned. Long time setup man Jim Johnson has 8 saves in his new role as closer. Most of the O’s relievers have been completely untouchable, three of them yet to give up a run (Lindstrom, Ayala, Johnson). O’Day and Strop have been near unbeatable too. Patton and Gregg are improving with every appearance, although Gregg eventually needs to be replaced. Even 1B Chris Davis chipped in 2 scoreless innings! The bullpen has been a huge factor in Baltimore’s success, keeping games close so the persistent offense has until the 9th inning to win games.
M. Lindstrom 0.00ERA (13 shutout innings)
L. Ayala 1-0, 0.00 (15 2/3 shutout innings)
J. Johnson 0.00 (12 2/3 shutout innings), 8SVs
D. O’Day 2-0, 0.64
P. Strop 3-1, 1.59
T. Patton 1-0, 4.26
K. Gregg 0-1 5.19
Defensive struggles and an ineffective bench have been the Orioles only weak spots so far this season. They lead the American League in errors and have 10 at 3B alone. They have the worst fielding percentage in the AL. Baltimore has very poor fielding at 1B, 3B, & LF.
One defensive bright spot is the middle infield duo of 2B Robert Andino and SS J.J. Hardy. That pair have helped the Orioles turn the second most double plays in the Majors.
All Star C Matt Wieters is very hard to run against, throwing out 8 base runners already.
The team has stayed relatively healthy this season, other than multiple injuries to LF Nolan Reimold. He’s on the 15 Day DL and is eligible to return on 5/14.
The O’s had 3 major injuries in Spring Training: Japanese pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who was expected to return in May or June, is now out for the season and scheduled for Tommy John surgery on 5/11. Pitching prospect Zach Britton is expected to return in June, and may take a rotation spot from Matusz or Hunter. Backup catcher Taylor Teagarden still has no timetable for returning from lower back stiffness, but may have lost his job to Paulino anyway.
I will put no stake in a Brian Roberts comeback until he proves me wrong. The often-injured 2B only played 59 games in 2010 and 39 in 2011. His days as an everyday MLB player are most likely behind him. Even if Roberts is able to play every day, Robert Andino has earned his spot offensively and defensively. It wouldn’t make sense to waste either of their sure handed gloves at DH, so the most likely scenario would be moving one of them to 3B and DHing poor fielding Mark Reynolds.
Veteran Manager Buck Showalter has brought an attitude of winning and playing hard till the end to a young team that hasn’t had a winning season since 1997. Jim Presley and Bill Castro have done a great job with an underdog pitching staff. Batting Coach Jim Presley also deserves recognition for the hot bats this young team has had so far. Former Boston coach Demarlo Hale is the only negative, often making poor decisions as 3B Coach.
On the farm:
Top pitching prospect and 2011 1st rounder Dylan Bundy has given up no runs and struck out 25 in 17 innings at Class A Delmarva, and should be moving up soon. Top position prospect and 2010 1st rounder SS Manny Machado is still getting used to AA pitching at Bowie, but the 19 year old will probably be moved up to AAA Norfolk at some point. Pitcher Jason Berkin has a 1.23ERA and 15 strikeouts in 5 starts for Norfolk. Some other names to keep an eye on are Nick Delmonico, Xavier Avery, Glynn Davis, Robert Bundy, Gabriel Lino, L.J. Hoes, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Mahoney, and Tyler Townsend.
Baltimore has a tough 4 game series against Texas starting tonight. Many people consider the Rangers to be the best team in baseball, but the Orioles actually have a better record. This will be a true test for this young Orioles team, but they’re going in with the confidence of having just beaten perennial contenders New York and Boston. This O’s team does not quit. They play hard with a “refuse to lose” attitude, never conceding, even if they have to play 17 innings to win. A lot of teams will take the Orioles lightly, and maybe that’s in Baltimore’s favor. If they play the rest of the season with the heart and determination they’ve exhibited in the first month, expect the Baltimore Orioles to still be relevant in October for the first time in 14 years.
©2012 Denim McDemus