August 30, 2012
They’re 19th in the majors in runs scored, 24th in batting average, 25th in on base percentage, and 14th in slugging.
Their pitching staff is 18th in ERA, 20th in WHIP, and 20th in batting average against.
Their run differential is -44, yet their record is 72-58. According to the Pythagorean formula of wins and losses, they should be 60-69. That’s mind-boggling enough to make Bill James faint.
And yet, they reside in second place in the AL East, 3 games behind the New York Yankees.
Have they suddenly gotten hot in August? Yes. They are 16-9 this month, their best monthly record since they went 14-9 in March/April. They went 15-13 in May, 13-13 in June, then suffered their first losing month, going 13-14 in July.
Their offensive statistics as a team have remained rather consistent all year. Their team batting average has remained just north or south of .240, and their team OPS has been right around .700. Apart from May (45) and June (24), they’ve averaged 30 home runs per month.
The key to the Orioles success seems to be pitching. They were hot during the season’s first month, and have ramped it up again this month. Their team ERA in March/April was 3.03, and 3.82 in August. Every other month, their ERA was above 4.00.
Their bullpen has been great all year long. Six Oriole relief pitchers have an era below 3.00. Setup man Pedro Strop leads the entire team with 3.0 wins above replacement (WAR), and closer Jim Johnson leads all of baseball in saves with 40.
The starting rotation has been a different story.
Lefty Wei-Yin Chen has been Baltimore’s most consistent starter. He’s 12-7 with a 3.78 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. After Chen, the O’s have had trouble scraping together reliable starts. Chen is the only starter with double-digit Quality Starts. Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.54 ERA) was having a solid season before he hit the disabled list. He’s due back on September 6th.
They acquired veteran LHP Joe Saunders to try to give their rotation a boost, but he was no help in his first start (and only start thus far), as he gave up 6 earned runs on 10 hits in 5.1 innings against the White Sox.
They have, however, gotten a boost from an unexpected source. 24 year-old righty Chris Tillman, whose ERA has never been lower than 5.40 in his 4-year career, is 7-2 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 10 starts. He was recalled from Triple-A in July, and made his first start of the season on July 4th. In that game, he tossed 8.1 innings, allowing only 2 unearned runs on 2 hits.
Another 24 year-old, Zach Britton, has had three consecutive excellent starts in August after he initially struggled when he was recalled from Triple-A in July.
Chen, Tillman, and Britton have provided enough quality innings to effectively act as a bridge from the start of the game to the bullpen. Once the O’s bullpen takes over, the game is usually over.
Much like the ’96 Yankees, or the Atlanta Braves of today, they win by shortening games.
And now, with the 2012 Yankees coming back to the pack (they’re 4-6 in their last 10 games), the Orioles find themselves in a position they haven’t been in since 1997. Not only are they on the verge of finishing above .500 for the first time in 15 years, they also have a great chance to make the playoffs.
If they don’t win their division, they can get into the postseason as a wildcard. They currently lead division-rival Tampa Bay by 1 game for the second wildcard spot.
As we saw last year, a lot can happen in September. If the O’s starting rotation holds up, and the bullpen continues its stellar work, Baltimore could be playing baseball in October. Earl Weaver must be proud.