Yes, I know everything may seem doom and gloom right about now. The Orioles just got swept in the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals, Nick Markakis might have played his last game in an Orioles uniform, and it feels like it has been raining for the last seven days. There are still many things to be positive about though — which sounds weird coming from me.
The Baltimore Orioles won the American League East and made an appearance in the ALCS. This has not happened since 1997. The Orioles won the division by 12 games. That was the largest lead to win the division since the 2001 New York Yankees finished 13.5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox. Not only did the Orioles finish with the best record in the AL East, they had the second best record in the American League and tied for the second best in the Major Leagues.
For the second straight season, an Oriole led the Majors in home runs. Also, that guy that led the Majors in home runs, Nelson Cruz, finished third on the team in WAR, behind Adam Jones and STEVE PEARCE. Yes, Steve Pearce, who also finished with a higher WAR than Jayson Werth, Victor Martinez, Dustin Pedroia, Cruz, and Jacoby Ellsbury. David Lough finished with a 1.9 WAR; Delmon Young finished with 0.9. Manny Machado and Nick Markakis finished with the same WAR (2.5) and Machado played in 73 less games than Markakis.
Don’t worry, it gets even crazier. The main five starters in the Orioles rotation: Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez, and Kevin Gausman, all finished with an ERA below 4. That has not happened since 2006, and that team went 72-90. Ubaldo Jimenez is the highest paid pitcher and had a 6-9 record with a 4.81 ERA and 4.67 FIP. The starter making the least, Kevin Gausman, finished the season 7-7 with a 3.57 ERA and a 3.41 FIP. Zach Britton became the closer, finished the season with 37 saves and a 1.65 ERA. And probably the craziest thing: the game the O’s clinched the AL East was started by Ubaldo Jimenez and finished by Tommy Hunter, just how they drew it up in Spring Training.
Buck Showalter won his first postseason series as an MLB manager, and did so by beating the last three Cy Young Winners in each game. This was also his third winning season in a row. The last time that happened with the Orioles was from 1992-1994, when Johnny Oates was the manager. Maybe every Orioles manager should just wear 26 from now on. The last time the Orioles had two postseason appearances in a span of at least three years was from 1969-1971, when they went to the World Series three years in a row. Another interesting fact about Showalter: he has only had one season with the Orioles where his managerial record was below .500: 2011. In 2010, he went 34-23 after taking over for Juan Samuel.
Dan Duquette worked magic with the late offseason signing of Nelson Cruz at one year, $8 million dollars. He worked magic at the trade deadline acquiring Alejandro De Aza from the White Sox for next to nothing. He was able to bring Steve Pearce back after the Orioles designated him for assignment in April, leading to Pearce having his best season ever. Aside from the big risk of signing Ubaldo Jimenez to a 4 year, $50 million deal, every move Duquette made had positive repercussions.
On May 31, the Orioles were 27-27, in third place and 4.5 games back of first. On July 5, the Orioles were a game up in first place, and never looked back. That in itself is an amazing feat that still amazes me to this day. That’s the kind of thing you tell an Orioles fan five years ago, they would have thought you were crazy.
2014 was an amazing season for baseball in Baltimore and it is only the beginning of something special. It furthers proof that 2012 was not a fluke and that the new age O’s are here to stay. What the Orioles can hope for is Matt Wieters and Manny Machado to stay healthy, Chris Davis to come back from his suspension ready to roll, Kevin Gausman to take over as the best starter for the Orioles, and Ubaldo Jimenez to start pitching like a $40 million pitcher.
Whether or not all of that happens, I am confident that the Duquette-Showalter partnership will continue to bring winning to Baltimore for years to come.