A season of hope in Baltimore left fans wanting more.
The Baltimore Orioles came into 2013 with much of baseball holding their breath to see if they’d do it again. After a surprising 93-win campaign in 2012 in which the team tied records with the Rangers for wild-card privileges, the onus was on them to prove it was no fluke. Skeptics pointed to their greatest-of-all-time record in one-run games and the incredible performance by the 2012 squad’s bullpen as areas in which the 2013 team was going to regress, falling far short of recreating their magical seeming 2012. CBS Sports had them ranked 14th, hilariously tied with the Red Sox and the Athletics, when they released their preseason playoff odds. The popular opinion was that they were not going to be able to do it again, that the success of 2012 was too much smoke and mirrors and it had to have dissipated over the offseason. In the end, the 2013 season for the Baltimore Orioles ended up being a tale of two halves – Baseball Halves that is, though. The way the first half of the baseball season is 90-95 games and the second half is 75 or 80. Baseball Math.
What Went Right?
The first half, basically. Going into the All-Star break the O’s were 53-43 and sending five representatives to the All-Star game. They looked unstoppable, poised to show those who’d doubted them where they could stick their ‘one-run magic.’ They hadn’t caught the Red Sox after their hot start, but they looked like they had the talent to give the also-surging Rays a run for their money. There was a lot of talk of both AL wildcards going to East Division teams.
Chris Davis, after his breakout 2012 in which he hit 33 dingers, entered 2013 with everyone wondering if he had finally learned to translate his long-thought-of power into in-game power once and for all. Those with faith were rewarded as Davis entered the All-Star Break with 37 home runs, tying Reggie Jackson‘s all-time pre-break record. He was hitting .315/.392/.717 and looked poised to challenge, at the very least, Roger Maris‘ now-beaten single-season record of 61 homers.
Manny Machado was this year’s Mike Trout, albeit with tools less loud, heading into the break. He looked ready to challenge Earl Webb‘s doubles record of 67 in a season that’s stood since 1931. He was batting .310/.337/.470 and playing some of the most plus-plus defense we’d seen in some time. Adam Jones was being Adam Jones (that is great) and Nate McLouth had stolen like a million bases.
The O’s looked unstoppable, the American League won the All Star game and it was going to take a lot of Rays-magic to keep them out of the playoffs. Sure the pitching staff had a 4.54 FIP, second worst only to the Astros, Machado had a .361 BABIP and teams were starting to figure out how to keep Davis in the park; but they did still look formidable.
What Went Wrong?
After the All Star Break the pitching at least improved. O’s hurlers put up a slightly less terrible 4.04 FIP in the second ‘half’ which made them just bottom-third-bad instead of only-better-than-the-Astros-bad.
Other than that, Davis only hit 16 more home runs with a .245/.339/.515 line. Machado did even worse with a .240/.277/.370 line before going down with a nasty knee injury that required season ending surgery in late September.
In the end, the Orioles limped into a tie for third with the mystifyingly ageless Yankees and an 85-77 record. The pundits ended up being right about the playoffs, but it didn’t look like it was going to shake out that way until the very end. Davis finished the year with a monstrous 53 home runs, and in spite of the terrible pitching situation, Jim Johnson continued to rack up ground-ball saves like a boss, earning himself a hilarious payday in the process.
The team’s outlook for the future looks bright. The answers to their pitching woes appear on their way in youngsters Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, both of whom project as frontline starters. Machado has established himself as a genuine star, even if his offensive performance from the first half was unsustainable, and Davis has blossomed into the beast of a hitter the Rangers had always hoped he’d become. At the winter meetings this year, the Orioles may look to find a more permanent solution at second base than the rotating cast of Alexi Casilla, Brian Roberts and Ryan Flaherty that they employed in 2013. The Angels are known to be shopping Howie Kendrick as part of an inexplicable offseason plan, and they are reported to be seeking young pitching which the O’s could provide. If they have to go the free agent route, they will be priced out of the Cano sweepstakes, but could make a play for a mid-tier guy like Omar Infante. They will also definitely look to bolster their starting rotation at as good a price as they can, and have already been attached to last year’s midseason acquisition Scott Feldman.
With another strong offensive performance from Baltimore’s cast of young stars in 2014, they could very easily march toward the postseason if the pitching can pull it’s weight. On the considerable shoulders of Dylan Bundy and Chris Davis, not to mention Matt Wieters, Jones, Gausman, Machado, and so on, this team might be able to make some noise next year.