The Baltimore Orioles were one of the feel-good stories of 2012.
They hadn’t reached the postseason since 1996 but defeated the heavily favored Texas Rangers in the new one-game playoff and put up an impressive showing in the ALDS, which they ultimately lost to the New York Yankees in five games.
But let’s be realistic: Despite their success from a year ago, no one really considered them a threat to be legitimate playoff contenders this season.
Baltimore plays in arguably the toughest division in baseball, and everyone jumped on the Toronto Blue Jays bandwagon this offseason.
However, Buck Showalter has his team playing the same style of baseball this season that was key in last year’s postseason run.
It’s basically the same cast of characters this year that have seemed to gel together as a team. Adam Jones and Chris Davis are off to hot starts over the first month and a half, and a healthy Nick Markakis is contributing as well.
Even at just 20 years old, Manny Machado is cementing himself as an offensive force. He’s leading the team in hitting at .343 through 40 games.
The Orioles rank fourth in AL in runs scored and fifth in home runs and batting average. That’s pretty impressive, especially since the team doesn’t have a superstar like a Miguel Cabrera.
Right now, Baltimore is right in the thick of things in the AL East, though it’s still way too early to be thinking about postseason races. Yet, for the Orioles to truly prove that last year was no fluke, the team’s starting pitching will have to be more consistent like it was last year, especially down the stretch.
So far, nine different pitchers have started at least one game for the Orioles, and a 10th, Jair Jurrjens, starts Saturday. Jason Hammel leads the way at 5-1, but his 4.93 ERA is a bit high.
Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman have both been consistent, but injuries to other starters have hurt any sort of rhythm. If the team stays relevant, a trade deadline deal for a starting pitcher could be an option.
Just like last season, this year’s Orioles bullpen has been their main strength. Jim Johnson has again been dominant late in games, and the bridge to Johnson -- featuring Darren O’Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz and Troy Patton -- has done its job well.
In the game today, the emphasis unfortunately has shifted towards individual play. However, the Orioles are a rare example of proving that playing a team-oriented game can still be effective.
That’s the type of manager Showalter is. It may sound cliché, but he has his players performing for the good of the team. And he’s showing that it still works that way.
So far so good -- except for some minor inconsistency from the starting pitching -- for the Orioles in 2013. Now it’s about maintaining their style of play for another postseason run.