With just about a quarter of the season over, the Orioles continue to play well. Near the top of the American League East, the Orioles have proven that they can be consistent winners.
Let’s look at five things that have gone right for the Orioles so far:
1) Manny Machado
Everyone knew Machado was going to be good, but still nearly two months from 21, the third baseman has proven to be an extraordinary hitter.
This past weekend, Machado had three hits in each of the Orioles’ three games, and in his last 19, he’s batting .406 and in the top 10 in batting. He’s leading the American League in Wins Above Replacement with 2.3, playing a brilliant third base.
Many say he’d be even better at shortstop, but he seems comfortable at third now.
Last year was the coming out party for Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Harper was taken two spots ahead of Machado in the 2010 draft. In most years, Machado would have been the nation’s No. 1 pick except for the presence of an unsurpassed talent in Harper.
Now, Machado’s talents are being compared with Harper, and that’s a great thing for the Orioles.
2) Chris Davis
Davis entered Monday tied for the American League lead with 11 home runs and second in the majors with 37 RBIs. His home run on Sunday was estimated at 442 feet, and it was one of his longer ones.
He’s drawing many more walks, and playing a decent first base. With Adam Jones, Machado and Davis all in the top 20 in hitting and the first baseman drawing enough walks to be among the leaders in on-base percentage, this trio is a formidable one for pitchers to face.
The move from designated hitter to first base has benefited Davis, but the man he displaced, Mark Reynolds is also among the league leaders in most offensive categories.
3) Adam Jones
At this point in the season in 2012, Jones was batting .295 with 25 RBIs. This year, he’s batting .321 with 25 RBIs. The major difference is his home runs are down from 12 to five.
His hitting has been consistent, and ever since the criticism about his defense reached its crescendo a couple of weeks ago, it’s been solid.
Jones has benefitted from having Machado, Davis, and against right-handers, Nick Markakis surrounding him.
4) The bullpen
The Orioles’ bullpen couldn’t repeat its success from last year, could it?
In many ways, the bullpen is better. Luis Ayala, Kevin Gregg and Matt Lindstrom are gone. Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and T.J. McFarland have replaced them,
Hunter, who was homer happy as a starter, seems to have found a home as a long or middle innings reliever. His perfect 2 1/3 innings on Friday were key to the Orioles’ comeback win. Hunter is currently riding a streak of 15 2/3 scoreless innings.
Matusz has an ability to strand inherited runners, and has effective as a left-handed specialist, and McFarland’s 2 2/3 scoreless innings allowed Hunter to shine. McFarland gives manager Buck Showalter something he didn’t have last year, a long reliever.
Jim Johnson has 14 saves, and has gone nearly 10 months without blowing one. He’s getting tired of all the questions about the bullpen’s milestones—number of games they’ve won when leading by seven, the consecutive save opportunities converted record. He’ll have to answer questions about them when the streaks end. That may be a while.
5) Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter
The major criticism about Duquette was that he didn’t do much in the off-season. He answered that by saying the team played well in the last couple of months of 2012, and that it could equal or surpass that success this year.
Yes, Mark Reynolds’ offense might look nice with this team, but if Reynolds was still at first and Davis was the DH, would Davis have the same numbers?
Duquette argued that having Machado and Nate McLouth for a full season as well as a healthy Nick Markakis would improve the team more than a middling free agent.
Re-signing McLouth turned out to be a great move. His speed has given the Orioles a dimension they haven’t had since Brian Roberts was in his prime. McLouth’s 11 stolen bases are tied for third in the majors. Only Jacoby Ellsbury and Juan Pierre with 12 have more. The Orioles haven’t had a top 10 basestealer since Brian Roberts in 2008.
Showalter deftly moved Machado to the second spot near the end of spring training, recognizing that his offense had improved, and despite Markakis’ success in the leadoff spot, bats McLouth there when he plays. Markakis generally hits there against left-handers.