As any O’s fan can attest, the 2012 season was arguably the most fun since 1989. There have been other O’s teams that were more successful since then, but for sheer enjoyment, I’d contend that there wasn’t a better iteration since the “Why Not?” season of ’89. The O’s were easily the surprise of baseball last year, for both baseball pundits as well as true blue fans of the team.
No one saw a 93-win team coming, nor a team that was one game away from going to the ALCS. If you believe the aforementioned pundits, the Orioles were successful because of some kind of combination of sheer luck and hocus-pocus. As if the Birds were sacrificing chickens (no pun intended) on a nightly basis and somehow that carried them through to the playoffs.
I’ve always been a proponent of the phrase “it’s better to be lucky than good”, but in the 2012 Orioles case, from someone who watched them night in and night out, they were really, really good. Can they build on the success of 2012? More importantly, will they? Despite what the current issue of ESPN The Magazine says, I say yes and yes.
I’m no stat geek. I couldn’t tell you what FIP is, what FIPx is, and when someone mentions WAR, the first thing that comes to mind is the song by Edwin Starr (“War/what is it good for?/absolutely nothing/say it again”). I’m old school, I still look at ERA and Batting Average as important statistics, combined with the “eye test”, I couldn’t care less about what the Keith Laws of the world think about things such as run differential.
When I say the O’s will continue their success in 2013, it’s really just a feeling in my gut. To paraphrase SI’s Peter King, here are 5 things I think I know when it comes to the 2013 Baltimore Orioles.
1. The bullpen will be just as good, if not better
Everyone knows the 2012 bullpen was THE driving force for the team’s success last year. Jim Johnson had a career year for anyone when it comes to the saves stat, Pedro Strop (until faltering a bit late in the year) was great as the 8th inning set-up guy, and of course Darren O’Day was Mr. Everything as the 7th inning (sometimes more) bridge to Strop. Confidence goes a long way, and I really believe there’s no more confident bullpen in the American League. Now that the roles are truly defined, I expect this bullpen to achieve even greater heights in 2013. They will get a huge boost from #2 on my list.
2. The starting rotation will be the surprise of baseball
This is where all of the pundits will look when degrading the O’s chances in 2013. It’s the same old story. Since they haven’t heard of half of the rotation, they will assume that the Orioles have no pitching. Surprise, pundits! There’s a surplus. After the locks of Hammel/Chen/Gonzo, many say there’s 2 spots available. I actually say 1.5 spots, because I pencil(no ink) in Tillman at the #4. If he builds on his 2012 season, watch out. Don’t be surprised if Gausman breaks camp with the team, but he’d obviously need to have a lights out Spring. I just have a feeling there’s three 15+ game winners in the rotation in Hammel/Chen/Gonzo, and double digits at the 4 and 5. Again, gut feeling.
3. The defense will be one of the best in the AL
The O’s won’t have to go 29-9 again in 1-run games this season because they will have a better defense. It’s simple really. Less errors means less extending innings which means less pitches thrown which means fresher pitchers throughout the season. All of that together equates to more “wins in regulation”. Manny Machado shoring up the infield had a huge effect on the team late in 2012, now they get that for a full season (barring injuries) along with Gold Glovers up the middle and in the outfield, I foresee the O’s winning some of those same games they lost in May-June of last year.
4. (and 5). Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette
I put these two together because it just simply feels right. They are the Oscar and Felix of Major League Baseball, a truly odd couple that just work great together. Duquette makes personnel decisions, but he doesn’t seem to interfere with how the pieces are played; he shows full trust in the manager. Showalter is in my opinion the best manager in the AL, proving this by managing circles around Ron Washington in the wild card game last year, and even though it was in a loss, he pretty much did the same to Girardi in the ALDS. No other manager comes more prepared to put his guys in a position to win, and I don’t think any other manager has a team that wants to win more for their manager than the O’s do for Buck. That goes a long way.
The 2013 Orioles will win 90+ games again. They have a young and talented nucleus, something the preseason predictions seem to forget. For the first time in 15 years, they are coming into a new baseball season fresh off of a playoff appearance; this can’t be downplayed. Baseball is such a mental game, and like I said earlier, confidence goes a long way. They now know they are good enough to play with anyone on any night. Expectations are high not just among the fan base, but among the powers that be in the organization and the players themselves. This combined with the chip on their shoulders undoubtedly born from the usual naysayers will carry them through this 2013 campaign. Will they meet these expectations? I undoubtedly say yes.
Winston Rigsby is contributor to BaltimoreSportsReport.com. You can follow him on Twitter @W_R_R.