The Baltimore Orioles, managed by Buck Showalter, are currently tied for first in the AL East with the New York Yankees and are poised to make their first postseason appearance since 1997. The O's started off 19-9 in their first 28 games, tied for their best mark at this point of the season since 2002 (The 2005 Orioles started off 19-9 as well). Yet, you'd expect the Orioles to collapse and fall into obscurity at this point, right? Although they won four of their last thirteen games before the All-Star break, the Orioles went into the break with a 45-40 record. With that kind of slide, you'd think that this would maybe be where Baltimore begins to fall apart. Right? Wrong. They lost four of their first five games after the All-Star break and many people figured this was their swan song. Then on July 18, Baltimore beat the Minnesota Twins 2-1 thanks to an Adam Jones two-run homer in the first. This win would be the start of a five-game winning streak, which would catapult the O's back into playoff contention. They went 2-5 in the seven games after the five-game win streak. Surely you'd believe that THIS would be where the Orioles waved the white flag, right? Again, you'd be wrong. On July 30, the O's went into Yankee Stadium against division foe New York and wound up taking two of three from the Yankees in the series. After the crucial road series win, Baltimore went 11-5 in the next 16 games, including series wins over division rivals Boston and Tampa Bay. They went on to lose two of three games at Texas, but have been on a roll since August 22. As of right now, the Orioles are 77-60, tied for first in the AL East and are playing a critical home series versus the Yankees. You do believe in magic, yes?
But how in the world is Baltimore, a team that has had 14 consecutive losing seasons and has had questionable ownership, been able to sustain this kind of competitive play? Believe it or not, you can't really put a finger on it. Baltimore ranks 17th in runs scored with 595 runs, 22nd in batting average (.247) and 23rd in slugging percentage (.311). Statistically, their pitching, more specifically their rotation, hasn't been outstanding in their own right. Baltimore ranks 17th in ERA (4.01), 20th in WHIP (1.31) and 16th in opponent's batting average (.255). But you can give starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen plenty of credit for keeping the O's at this point. The lefty has a 12-8 record with a 3.79 ERA and a WHIP of 1.23. These stats may not be outstanding, but they're still respectable. But when you take into account his July 29th start against Oakland in which he struck out 12 A's in only 5.2 IP, you can't help but be impressed.
Baltimore has also benefited greatly from having a shutdown closer in Jim Johnson. He's saved 41 games for the O's and has an ERA of 2.83, a WHIP of 0.98 and has only allowed twelve walks in 59 appearances. Did I mention that he has given up as many home runs as blown saves and only has 36 strikeouts? Darren O' Day and Pedro Strop have also done excellent work as set-up men. They've posted an ERA of 2.14 and 2.29, respectively. Troy Patton has been stellar as well, posting a WHIP of 1.03 a K/9 stat of 8.25.
However, let's not forget that the emergence of outfielder Adam Jones has contributed immensely to Baltimore's success this season. The ex-Mariner is batting .289 this season while hitting 28 home runs and driving in 71 runs this year. He even stole 13 bases in 2012. Catcher Matt Wieters has also worked wonders for the Orioles, hitting 19 homers and 70 RBIs. Other contributing O's include Chris Davis, who has 24 homers and 67 RBIs and Nick Markakis, who's batting .300 while hitting 13 homers and 54 RBIs.
Could the Orioles do the unthinkable and dethrone the New York Yankees in the AL East? Nothing's certain at this point, but it'll be a dogfight to the finish. All I can say is that everyone is pulling for Baltimore to pull off some O's magic in the last month of the regular season. Just don't try to write off this Orioles team just yet.