Coming off of their first playoff appearance in 14 seasons, expectations were high for the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. We now know that if the goal was to return to the post season, they fell short of that. However they certainly didn’t fall short of the goal of playing meaningful games in the latter part of the season, as the team was in contention into the final week of league play. So what went right, wrong, or indifferent for that matter? Keep reading and find out!
The Birds started hot out of the gate with a 6-4 record in the first ten games, a stretch that included Chris Davis‘ game-clinching grand slam in the home opener. Little did we know that what we saw that day was simply a harbinger of what was to come from Davis this year. The Birds even managed to take three-of-four at Oakland, a park that was traditionally tough on the O’s. However the trend even at that time was that Oriole starters were having trouble going deep into games. The O’s were still winning mind you, however at a certain point having starters that could only go five innings or so would have to take a toll on the bullpen. Unfortunately, part of that toll was taken on closer Jim Johnson, who ended up with nine blown saves on the year.
It was also evident as we reached the quarter pole that the Orioles’ record in one-run games wasn’t going to be what it was in 2012. A year after going 29-9, the Birds would up 20-31 in games decided by one run. However as spring turned to summer it became obvious that the Orioles were very much in contention, even with lackluster pitching and an average (at best) record in one-run games. There were still some bright spots even in those areas; Chris Tillman‘s 16 wins led the team, although he deserved better. He earned hard-luck losses and no decisions due to the bats and bullpen not coming through at times. He easily pitched well enough to win twenty games.
However the biggest bright spot for which 2013 will be remembered will be Chris Davis. In finishing with 53 home runs, Davis led the league for most of the season. Going into the year the concern was whether or not Davis’ defense would be good enough to keep him in the lineup. However as good as Davis’ defense ended up being – he’s probably a gold glove candidate – it would have had to have been grossly horrible to keep his bat out of the lineup. Obviously Manny Machado was also a force at the plate and in the field all season long, as was Adam Jones.
More than anything else, this year’s Oriole team was probably just a bit too inconsistent down the stretch to be a part of the post season. They were good – make no mistake about that. But the longest win streak they put together was five games, where as teams such as Tampa would somehow manage to put together ten plus game winning streaks. Part of this was due to pitching, and even a bit due to hitting as well. I would submit that Oriole bats tired down the stretch, even though the pitching did actually improve.
The Birds opened the second half of the season with an impressive three-game sweep of Texas (on the road), which fans hoped would set the tone for the rest of the season. However with a few exceptions, they were unable to sustain that. Series losses in Kansas City and Boston sent them in the wrong direction, although they did sweep San Diego in a two-game set and take two-of-three on the road from San Francisco. But the real downer was probably a three-game sweep in Arizona, in which the Orioles lost all three games on walk offs. They were also consistently unable to beat Tampa down the stretch as well, and there are varying reasons for that (which I’ll get into this off season).
But we said that the O’s were inconsistent this year. That doesn’t mean they were bad, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t have a great building block for 2014. They swept New York at the very end of June in dramatic fashion, a series that included a Sunday night win. They also cleaned up against a few AL West teams such as Oakland and the LA Angels. Some would argue that their surge at the end of the season (after being eliminated from playoff contention) was an exercise in futility given that the games didn’t mean anything. However it’s what happens when nobody’s looking that often matters most.
The good news for the O’s as they move into the off season is that they know what they need to improve. The starting pitching will need to be better and go deeper into games. The bench will also need to improve a bit so as to give some of the regulars some time off here and there during the season. Perhaps part of the issue was that the 2012 Orioles set the bar too high. However the 2013 squad is far from a failure, and odds are they’ll contend again in 2014. It’s just a matter of putting the right pieces together at the right time. And there’s nobody better at that than Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette.