No fluke, 2013 Orioles are better

No fluke, 2013 Orioles are better
May 6, 2013, 10:45 am
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With their season 20 percent complete, the Orioles get a day off. Five weeks ago tomorrow, the season opened at Tampa Bay, and 32 games later, the Orioles are a thoroughly acceptable 19-13.

A year ago, the Orioles were 20-12 through 32 games, and they finished with 93 wins. They currently project to 95 wins. The Orioles are percentage points behind the Yankees for second place and 1 ½ games behind the Red Sox for first place in the AL East.

It’s unlikely that three AL East teams will have 95 or more wins, but there’s no reason the Orioles can't stay competitive throughout the season.

Their No. 1 starter Jason Hammel has already won five games, and if Adam Jones didn’t drop a fly ball in the sun in his second start, he could be 6-0.

Hammel hasn’t pitched like a 20-game winner, but he’s on pace to win 25. The Orioles haven’t had a 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker in 1984, and there hasn’t even been a 15-game winner since Erik Bedard in 2006.

Last year, Wei-Yin Chen led with 12 wins, and he was the only double-digit winner. The team hopes that doesn’t repeat, but Hammel is the only starter with more than two. Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman each have two.

The bullpen continues to be a happy story. Darren O’Day has two wins. Jim Johnson, who had 51 saves a year ago, already has 11 and is on pace for 55. O’Day, Johnson and Tommy Hunter each have ERAs under two. Brian Matusz, T.J. McFarland and Troy Patton all have ERAs under three.

Pedro Strop, the bullpen’s problem child, has shown signs in recent days of straightening out. His ERA is 5.73, but it’s been coming down quickly.

Chris Davis, who gave Birdland a scare when he hurt his right knee Friday night, was back yesterday, and in celebration of the one-year anniversary of his heroic 16th and 17th innings at Fenway Park, gets to rest today.

Davis’ nine home runs and 30 RBIs project to MVP contender stats—45 home runs and 150 RBIs. His walks are up to 18, nearly half the 37 in all of 2012, and his strikeouts are down—a little. Last year, he fanned 169 times. This year, he’s struck out 32 times, which projects to 160.

A year ago, seven Orioles, Davis, Mark Reynolds, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Robert Andino, Wilson Betemit and J.J. Hardy struck out at least 100 times.

This year, six Orioles, Davis, Wieters, Jones, Ryan Flaherty, Manny Machado and Nolan Reimold are on pace for at least 100.

Machado and Nate McLouth are the biggest differences from a year ago. They both came to the Orioles in early August, and while Machado’s early offensive development is a surprise, the bigger one is the continued revival of McLouth.

Given up by the Pittsburgh Pirates last May, McLouth has returned to the form he showed with the Pirates in 2008. The Orioles are 49-26 in games he’s played since last August, and the record with Machado, who came on Aug. 9 and hasn’t missed a game is nearly as good.

Machado, who had a terrific road trip, is batting .309, and his five home runs and 21 RBIs, project to 25 homers and 105 RBIs. Figures anywhere close to that would be phenomenal for a player who won’t turn 21 until July.

McLouth is batting .313 and is an even better leadoff man than Nick Markakis. Markakis usually leads off against left-handers. McLouth and Markakis are the only players who haven’t struck out more than they’ve walked, and McLouth has nine stolen bases, giving the team its only true stolen base threat since Brian Roberts was in his prime.

Jones has been consistent with four home runs and 22 RBIs. He’s batting .331, and he’s failed to hit in just four games, and walked in two of those.

Hardy and Wieters’ bats have been relatively quiet as has Reimold’s, but both Reimold and Wieters are drawing walks regularly and have acceptable on-base percentages.

Run production is up. Remember how the team was outscored for much of the season in 2012, but somehow kept winning games? This year, they’re outscoring opponents by nearly a run per game. Their hitting is better, so they don’t have to win as many one-run games.

The biggest worry continues to be the inability of the starters to go deep in the game. Even though the Orioles have 15 quality starts in 32 games, they have just two of more than seven innings. Pressure continues to grow on the bullpen. They’ve weathered it so far, but more deep starts will be the mantra of the coming weeks.