Paul Brandley | Baltimore Orioles 2014 AL East Champs....What's Next?
The Baltimore Orioles are the
2014 AL East
By Paul Brandley
So, it’s official. After dropping the final six games of what appeared
to be a promising season in 2013, the Baltimore Orioles have won
the AL East title, marking the first time since 1997 that they’ve
clinched the division and just the second time since 1997 that a
team other than the Yankees and Red Sox has taken the division
(the Rays won it in 2008). What makes it better is that, with five
games left this season, the second-place Yankees are a devastating
thirteen games behind the Orioles. Thirteen! Sorry, Jeter.
Now, before you go attributing this gap to Yankees and their
inability to find quality talent despite their massive budget, I
would remind you that there are concrete reasons to the
Orioles’ success. They have overcome team-altering injuries
(Manny Machado, Matt Wieters) and had to deal with a totally
avoidable suspension (Chris Davis), but they have built a team
to withstand this kind of adversity.
The Orioles have benefited tremendously from the bevy of quality
pitchers they have. This season, the Orioles staff has held
opponents to a .244 batting average, 5th in the American League,
and have earned a team ERA of 3.44, 3rd in the American League
and 7th in the entire MLB. Yet, Baltimore ranks 25th in the MLB in
Quality Starts (defined as a start in which the starting pitcher throws
at least six innings while allowing fewer than three earned runs), so
where is this supposedly great pitching coming from?
The answer: the dynamic duo of Zach Britton and Darren O’Day.
These two, even after losing fellow reliever Andrew Miller to a trade
with the Red Sox, have performed admirably. Setup man Darren
O’Day has held batters to a .179 batting average, earning 24 holds
and maintaining an ERA of 1.76. Closer Zach Britton has recorded
36 saves, 7 holds and has allowed only 45 hits in 74+ innings.
Batters are hitting only .179 against him, helping him to an ERA of
1.70, well below his average ERA of 4.87 during the previous three
Britton & O’Day
That being said, it has not been all pitching for the O’s. With so
few quality starts this year, Baltimore really needed its hitters to
step up, and boy, have they ever.
The Orioles currently rank 9th in the MLB with a .258 team
batting average and 7th in total runs scored (686), but have
been guided by a collection of sluggers that negate most of the
non-quality starts. Guys like Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, Steve
Pearce, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis have produced
admirably, helping the team to the 3rd best slugging percentage
in the league at .423. Say what you will about his past, but
Nelson Cruz has been a beast this season, mashing 40 home
runs, picking up where the now-suspended Chris Davis left off
when he hit 53 home runs. Steve Pearce has also been a
pleasant surprise after a disappointing 44-game season last
year. He’s hitting for an average of .297 and has smacked 20
home runs, giving him a solid WAR at 6.
In the end, we’ll need to see how the Orioles handle
themselves in the playoffs. Each of the hitters mentioned in
this article were in the playoffs when the Orioles last made it
(Nelson Cruz lost to the Orioles with the Texas Rangers in the
one-game playoff), so this isn’t their first “rodeo”. However, it
remains to be seen how a team that missed the playoffs last
year and lost two stars in Machado and Davis will perform
against star-studded teams like the Angels and Tigers. Either
way, it’s time to break out the playoff gear.