The best thing the Baltimore Orioles have going for them in 2013 is the New York Yankees. The Yankees are falling apart at such a swift rate that MASH units can’t keep up. Last year as the Orioles were resurrected and reached the playoffs for the first time since Earl Weaver was kicking dirt in umpires’ faces (or at least it seemed so), they had to slug it out day after day in September with the Yanks for playoff positioning.
Always a powerhouse division, the American League East showed signs of fraying last year and headed into a new year the division has gone from one of the strongest to possibly one of the weakest. The Yankees are hurting, the Red Sox are a question-mark and only Toronto looks really tough. Opportunity is there for the O’s.
I’m one of those baseball fans who spent all last summer waiting for the Orioles to fold and they didn’t. They won a heap of games, 93 of them, and made the playoffs. It was the first time since 1997 the club did not have a losing record. They were the Pirates of the American League.
Yet I am still skeptical of the team’s readiness to show that it is a long-term contender, one worthy of top-of-the-division status regularly rather than a one-year wonder. No question Buck Showalter did a superb job handling the club last year. The Orioles were one of the winningest teams in the AL despite being weak on starting pitcher and having a minimal amount of power hitting. Baltimore had a great bullpen and made timely hits, with the heroics spread out among several guys, not simply one or two stars.
But stars always help. If Adam Jones becomes Matt Kemp, now you’re talking. If Nick Markaskis, Manny Machado and Matt Wieters emerge into regular All-Stars, then maybe you’re in business for a long time.
The Orioles showed some power at the plate when they needed it, but it didn’t always come from the same sources. A whole bunch of guys hit 10 or 15 home runs, but nobody hit 35 or 40. At times the Orioles seemed to be winning with mirrors and the manner in which they kept surviving makes me doubtful they can do it all again.
Obviously, Orioles fans were thrilled to pieces that their team was winning again after a long drought and they didn’t care how it was accomplished. After being irrelevant for a solid decade-and-a-half, no Orioles supporter was going to complain about how they were winning games. There was sort of a giddy appreciation as Ws went up day after day. Baltimore was young at many positions, so one would suppose those guys will get better. That will be the real measure of Showalter this season. But Baltimore seemed thin at many positions, too, and that means the Orioles can’t afford injuries.
Reviewing the 2012 Orioles’ season just left me with a feeling that most things fell into place and went right. But can everything go that smoothly all over again? Do it just once and your playoff achievement can be questioned as a fluke. Do it twice in a row and you are building something.
The great Orioles teams of yesteryear featured players like Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Mike Cuellar. There are no stars like that on the present-day Orioles. But if fans five years from now look back and hear the names Machado, Markaskis, and Jones and smile, then we will know for sure the current group accomplished something special.