The great mystery lingers as to what will happen by the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. Will the Red Sox keep beefing up? Will the Yankees be sellers? Will upstart contenders like the Indians, Cubs, and Astros find key cogs to fill their needs? Lost in all of this is one of the great stories of 2016: the Baltimore Orioles. All I’ve heard, living in Toronto, is how the Blue Jays are this close to breaking out. How the Orioles can’t keep this up with their porous starting rotation. And how Boston’s potent offense and David Ortiz’s final season are too much to overcome for the O’s. And I’m here to say “enough is enough.” Let’s stop acting like the 57-40 Orioles, with the best record in the American League, are a fluke. Here are a few reasons why you might want to start taking this team seriously:
They play defense. And, yes, defense matters. A lot.
Can we stop pretending that defense isn’t important in baseball? That teams shouldn’t be lauded for simply fielding the ball and making routine plays? Let’s stop getting so enamored with this age of sabermetrics. Baltimore’s defense has won them a number of games this season, and its double-play combo of shortstop J.J. Hardy and second baseman Jonathan Schoop is as good as it gets. Manny Machado is a Platinum Glove-winning third baseman, and Adam Jones does it all in center. Matt Wieters is the most underrated backstop at throwing out runners in baseball, and Chris Davis’ glove is almost as sharp as his power bat. Mark Trumbo, the Majors’ leading home run hitter with 30, has made up for his limited range with some key outfield assists. Let’s look below at one prime example of the Orioles’ defense winning them a game. Take a look at this diving grab by Jones in center. The Orioles trailed Tampa Bay 4-0 in the third inning on June 25, and this Jaff Decker drive would have been the nail in Baltimore’s coffin. But Jones’ full-dive effort saved three runs and allowed the O’s to rally for an 8-6 win.
Starting pitching is only one element of a team
Yes, it’s an important one. But for all the remarkable Atlanta Braves teams of the 90’s with the Hall of Fame core of Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, how many championships did they win? One. How about the Phillies and their collection of aces (Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Oswalt) in 2011? One and done against a Cardinals team with the likes of Kyle Lohse and Edwin Jackson following ace Chris Carpenter. And last year’s Royals? Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto weren’t supposed to outduel Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, and Jacob deGrom. Yet the Royals won the World Series in five games. The point is, the Orioles have a potent offense, a dominant bullpen, and outstanding defense. Can the other contending teams in the league say that?
Also, it isn’t like the O’s don’t have reliable arms on the staff. Or at least, a reliable arm. Chris Tillman is 14-2 and a legitimate Cy Young candidate in the AL.
There’s no place like home
The Orioles’ 36-14 record at Camden Yards this year is far and away the best mark in baseball. No, 21-26 on the road isn’t impressive. But consider this: the Orioles, who just swept the Central-leading Indians, have only three fewer home games remaining on their schedule than road games. On the flip side, the Red Sox, who sit 1.5 games back in the East entering play today, will play 41 of their final 63 games away from Fenway Park after they finish their three-game series with the Tigers.
The bullpen is good… and just got better
That’s because Darren O’Day was activated yesterday from the DL after being sidelined over a month with a hamstring injury. He made his impact felt immediately by striking out the side, and picked up the win when Nolan Reimold belted a game-winning homer to end an 0-for-16 skid. O’Day’s return takes some of the pressure off of what has been to date the game’s best 8-9 inning combo of Brad Brach and Zach Britton. Mychal Givens has been outstanding as well, posting a 7-1 record while often giving the club multiple innings.