Jones is Baltimore's closest thing to a superstar, but it didn't stop them from their first playoff appearance since 1997. Image: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

2012 Season Review Series: Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles were a cute story during the early part of the season, but unlike most Cinderellas, they refused to go away and wound up pushing the Yankees for AL East supremacy to the season’s final day. The editor at Birds Watcher, Domenic Vadala, drops by CttP to provide some guest analysis on what went right and wrong for the O’s in 2012.

Author: Domenic Vadala

To say that the 2012 Orioles overachieved would be an understatement. And that’s okay, because sometimes on Birds Watcher we play “Captain Obvious!” However this was a team that was predicted to finish what would have been it’s 15th consecutive losing season. Instead, they qualified for the postseason. It’s really an incredible story if you think about it, even if looking in from the outside. In the past Baltimoreans wouldn’t be afraid to tell you how bad their team was and what was going wrong. Now they’re still willing to do that, however they use the past-tense. And they beam with pride when talking about their play0ff-caliber baseball team.

2012 Season Highs - 2012 marked the 20th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, and the Orioles even trademarked the phrase The Ballpark that forever changed baseball for the year-long celebration. Part of that was the unveiling of bronze statues at the ballpark for each of the franchise’s Hall of Famers: Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr. The ceremonies were each incredibly emotional and well-produced by the Orioles, and as the summer wore on and it became more and more evident that the Orioles were in contention they became all the more special.

A big part of sports is being “clutch,” and the Orioles were most certainly that in many cases. They won 16 consecutive extra-innings games, and rarely – if ever – lost a one-run game. One of the more memorable extra-inning victories came on May 6th in Boston when the O’s emptied their bullpen in a game that went 17 innings. Designated Hitter Chris Davis was the lucky stiff that was tabbed by manager Buck Showalter to pitch when they ran out of relievers; Davis pitched two innings and got the win! Boston ended up in the same boat, and Adam Jones hit a three-run homer off of centerfielder Darnell McDonald to give the Orioles and Davis the lead. The mark of the 2012 Orioles was that they just didn’t give up until the final out. If they were down or the game was tied in the later innings  somehow they’d find a way to win. That’s how you win 16 consecutive extra-inning games. The Oriole bullpen also played a huge role as they were one of the most solid staffs in the league, anchored by closer Jim Johnson and his league-leading 51 saves.

There were various “big wins” over the course of the season, however the June sweep of Philadelphia will always stand out in my mind, as will the 1-0 August win in Tampa. Backup catcher Taylor Teagarden had the game-winning RBI-double; and that wasn’t the first or last time Teagarden came up clutch. He didn’t get many big hits, but when he did they often came in the form of clutch hits or homers. In my view the season came to a head on September 6th, which was the Cal Ripken Jr. statue unveiling ceremony. With that as a backdrop the Orioles lost a 5-1 lead in the 8th inning only to have Adam Jones homer in the last of the inning to start the Birds onto a 10-6 victory over New York. A week later they’d win back-to-back extra inning games in Seattle (18 and 11 innings respectively), and they’d come to within one game of clinching a playoff spot in their final home game against Boston. An Anaheim loss later that night dwindled their magic number to zero, giving the franchise it’s first postseason appearance since 1997. They would win the wild card game in Texas, but lose to NY three games to two in the ALDS.

2012 Season Lows - Obviously there weren’t many! The month of June and the first part of July brought a bit of a swoon to Camden Yards. Ironically many people weren’t surprised because over the past 14 seasons there always seemed to be that “second-half swoon” whereby the Orioles would fall away after being somewhat respectable over the course of the first half. Part of this had to do with the absence of Nick Markakis, who broke a bone in his hand. Another huge low came on September 8th when CC Sabathia hit Markakis, breaking his hand and effectively ending his season. However the biggest low was how the year ended for this team. Granted it’s in no way a disappointment given the 14 consecutive losing seasons, however once you get to the “promised land” you want to keep playing. They felt that they had what it took to compete with the Yankees, however Oriole bats went to sleep (as did those of NY), and Yankee pitching was just a bit better.

Free Agency - Two big pending moves with regard to free agency for the Orioles don’t even need to happen. First baseman Mark Reynolds has a club option for 2013 in his contract. Reynolds strikes out a lot, however the Orioles wouldn’t have gotten to where they did if not for some of his home runs and some of the acrobatics he did at first to keep runners off base. The other is catcher Matt Wieters, who will be eligible for arbitration this year for the first time. The Orioles locked up Adam Jones this year long-term, and most fans would like to see them do the same for Wieters, avoiding arbitration and the free agent market. And I think most fans would like to see them keep Reynolds around as well, even with the strikeouts.

2012-’13 Off Season - One would like to hope that the Orioles might look to add a t0p-of-the-line starter for the rotation. While the rotation that they patched together ended up working very well on the fly, someone that can anchor the rotation would make fans feel a lot better going into 2013. The same is true of a big bat to put in the middle of the lineup. While Chris Davis and Adam Jones hit 33 and 32 homers, neither is thought of as a true cleanup guy. If the Orioles can find both of those things, odds are they’ll continue to compete in the AL East.

For more from Domenic and everything Orioles, make sure to visit Birds Watcher.

Tags: Adam Jones Baltimore Orioles Buck Showalter Chris Davis Matt Wieters

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