Fans are fond of saying the Orioles were lucky last season. That luck won’t repeat. They won’t win 16 straight extra-innings games or have such a phenomenal record in one-run games.
Sports figures talk about luck all the time. “Luck is the residue of design,” baseball pioneer Branch Rickey said. “Luck occurs when preparation meets opportunity,” Vince Lombardi said.
Other people think the harder you work, the luckier you get.
Here are five things that could have gone wrong in 2012, but didn’t.
1) The Orioles’ great record in extra-inning and one-run games.
The Orioles probably won’t have such a great record in extra-inning or one-run games, but it won’t be luck. It will be skill.
When Buck Showalter was asked one of those questions he hates, those “why are you so good in…,” he’d mumble and finally admit the Orioles’ relief pitching was the reason why.
Jim Johnson secured nearly every one-run-game last season, and their deep bullpen allowed them to stay even in extra-inning games until they got a big hit.
It would be unlikely if Johnson and the other members of the bullpen repeated their 2012 success in 2013. Relief pitchers are historically inconsistent, and the Orioles are betting that Johnson, Pedro Strop, who slumped in the last six weeks of the season, Darren O’Day, Luis Ayala and Troy Patton will be just as good next season.
2) Brian Matusz’s bullpen experiment
With no history of working in the bullpen, and limited success as a starter, the Orioles decided to convert Matusz into a reliever last August.
Troy Patton was injured. J.C. Romero failed in a brief audition, and Matusz, who had been sent to the minors because his starts were substandard, did brilliantly as a left-handed specialist.
Matusz is probably too young, and the Orioles have probably invested too much in him to stereotype him as a left-handed reliever, but it’s a critical job, and he thrived in the role.
3) Manny Machado at third base
There wasn’t much talk about Machado being called up in September. He was just hitting his stride as a 20-year-old in Double-A. The Orioles’ defense was leaking, and the shortstop project was going to play third base.
Machado had been working covertly with Bobby Dickerson, now the team’s third-base coach, at Bowie on third base skills, but had hardly played the position.
That didn’t show. Machado excelled at third base, and his hitting wasn’t bad, either.
Instead of a shaky fielder batting .147, Machado fielded brilliantly with some great instinctive plays and hit much better than expected.
4) Nate McLouth
Norfolk manager Ron Johnson convinced Showalter that McLouth, who had an opt-out provision in his contract, deserved a look-see in the big leagues.
McLouth, a one-time All-Star with Pittsburgh, had been out of a job after the Pirates released him in May, and while his stats didn’t demand a promotion to the Orioles, Johnson won Showalter over.
McLouth was a great addition with his bat, fielding and speed. He was particularly valuable filling in for Nick Markakis in the leadoff spot. Orioles fans were happy when he re-signed for 2013 a few weeks back,
5) Nick Markakis at leadoff
Showalter had few options for a leadoff batter in the second half of the season. Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts were hurt, J.J. Hardy doesn’t walk enough and Robert Andino was striking out too much.
After his return from a broken hamate bone, Markakis was moved to leadoff, and both he and the Orioles thrived for two months. Markakis was comfortable there, and fortunately, McLouth was there when CC Sabathia drilled him, breaking his left thumb.
If Roberts is back, Showalter is faced with an interesting choice.