Those Birds of Baltimore

The Blue Jays have recently grabbed headlines with their moves at the trade deadline as well as their second eleven game winning streak of the season, the first time that has happened since the Indians did it back in 1954.  The Cardinals have maintained baseball’s best record all season with their dominating, historic pitching staff, currently marked by a 2.58 ERA – the lowest since 1972.  And yet the Orioles, those Birds of Baltimore, far from the flashiest of teams, may be the most interesting of the three.  Interesting in that they keep winning and no one seems to notice.

And if you didn’t notice, the Orioles just swept the A’s, meaning that if the season ended today, the O’s would be the American League’s second Wild Card.  A month and a half ago I wrote that there is “no reason to doubt that this team will make it back to the postseason.”  As the Angels sputter and the rest of the American League plays .500 baseball, indeed it looks as if the Orioles will be extending their season in October.  But how are they doing it?

By examining the stats, the O’s winning ways don’t seem like such a stretch.  In the American League, the O’s are 5th in runs scored (6th overall) and tied for 4th in runs allowed.  Defensively, they have the best fielding percentage not only in the American League, but all of baseball, committing a microscopic 46 errors in 117 games.  When looking at NBv and TBv, stats used exclusively here at Off Base, the O’s are 9th and 11th in MLB, respectively.  So unlike the offensive juggernaut that is the Blue Jays or the pitching rich Cardinals, the Orioles win with mistake-free defense and combine solid pitching with timely hitting.

This combination of defense and pitching sounds very similar to the Royals, the Orioles’ nemesis in last year’s American League Championship Series.  Yet the Royals have dominated the AL and have made headlines by picking fights and getting into brawls.  The upstart Astros, another team that has combined superb defense with great pitching, are the feel-good story of the year and have a Cy Young candidate in Dallas Kuechel and a Rookie of the Year candidate in Carlos Correa that sparks the interest of even the most casual of fans.

Yes, the O’s aren’t flashy and don’t make many headlines.  And this may be due to the lack of star power.  Surely on offense, third baseman Manny Machado and center fielder Adam Jones are the All-Star faces of the franchise.  Yet looking at their solid stat lines this year, .299/25/62 and .283/22/63 respectively, they are far from dominating the baseball world.  As for the O’s pitching staff, the starting rotation is pretty pedestrian, led by Wei-Yin Chen and his 3.20 ERA.  Currently, no starter has double digit wins and the overall rotation ERA is 4.28, fourth from the bottom in the AL.  The key to the team’s pitching is the bullpen, headed by the one-two punch of Zach Britton and Darren O’Day, both with sub-2.00 ERAs and Britton saving 29 out of 31 games.  However Britton is only in his second full season and his first All-Star appearance was this year.

You might say the Orioles have flown under the radar.  And that’s just fine.  The city of Balitmore, after all the turmoil and riots, deserves a winner and shouldn’t have to share it.

Featured Image: Via Wikipedia

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