2014 Baltimore Orioles full of surprises


May 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Orioles bench coach John Russell (left) talks with shortstop J.J. Hardy (right) in the dugout before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball is an often unpredictable game. While the Orioles are hovering around .500 and remain in contention for the playoffs as many expected, the way they’ve gotten there hasn’t been exactly as planned. Below are some of the most surprising things about the team up to this point in the season.

J.J. Hardy is homerless.

J.J. Hardy has hit more home runs over the last three seasons than other other shortstop in MLB besides Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. This season however, Hardy has not gone deep once in 149 ABs. Hardy dealt with an injured hamstring in late April, but has steadily raised his average to the current .295 since his return. Despite the ability to make solid contact returning, Hardy still has been mysteriously zapped of his power, frustrating Orioles fans and fantasy baseball owners everywhere.

Matt Wieters is injured.

For the first time in his career, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is seeing significant time on the disabled list as a result of a sore elbow. If it requires surgery, Wieters could be sidelined for at least the remainder of the 2014 season. The injury is completely new territory for Wieters, who played in more games last year than any other catcher that did not also play elsewhere in the field. Wieters appeared in 148 games in 2013, with only San Francisco’s Buster Posey and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana the only other catchers who played more.

Nelson Cruz is on pace with 2013 Chris Davis.

Actually, Cruz is exceeding Davis’ pace, as his 15 home runs are one more than Davis had at this point last year. Cruz has been the most valuable addition for the 2014 Orioles and maybe the best acquisition of the entire offseason. It still boggles my mind to think the Orioles are only paying $8 million for this one-year performance. If Cruz keeps up this pace and remains healthy this season, he may be due for a $12 million raise — although it probably wouldn’t be from the Orioles.

Zach Britton has a 0.7 ERA.

Zach Britton has unquestionably been the best reliever in the Oriole bullpen. The recently installed closer has stabilized the shaky ninth inning duties that once belonged to Tommy Hunter and seems to have finally found his niche in the major leagues. Entering this season, it seemed the only reason Britton was guaranteed a roster spot was that he was out of minor league options. Since his inclusion, he has proven to be the most reliable piece in the pen and has gone the same failed starter to successful closer route as Hunter and Brian Matusz.

Ryan Flaherty is not the starting second baseman.

Many expected Ryan Flaherty to start at second base this year after manager Buck Showalter’s high praise of him throughout the spring. But, just as he did last year, Flaherty started slow and played his way into a utility role. That will be where Flaherty stays, as the Orioles now have three other more favorable second base options in Jemile Weeks, Jonathan Schoop, and Steve Lombardozzi.

The Blue Jays are in first place and the Rays and Red Sox are struggling.

Going into today’s games, the Orioles find themselves in a position they haven’t been in for some time. Baltimore is looking up at the Toronto Blue Jays and down at both the Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East standings. Coming off of a five-game winning streak, the Blue Jays have emerged as a surprise contender for the division crown and a challenger to the Orioles’ bid for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Rays and Red Sox have had injuries that played a major role in temporarily anchoring them to the bottom of the division.