Thursday, August 9, 2012

The "Why Not?" Team Can Take Backseat to The Fightin' Showalters

I was in high school during the 1989 baseball season so I remember the "Why Not?" Orioles vividly and with great fondness. And why not? (See what I did there...) The team had traded away Eddie Murray and Mike Boddicker but were led by Cal Ripken, Jr. in the field and Mickey Tettleton at the plate and young pitchers like Bob Milacki, Jeff Ballard and Gregg Olson led the pitching staff. It was a lot of fun but ended in heartbreak during the last weekend of the season as they were edged out of the division win by the Toronto Blue Jays. (I still hate the Blue Jays more than the Red Sox, if you can imagine that. Not as much as the Yankees but I still hate them...)

Anyway, that team had nothing on this 2012 club. In 1989, it was "Why Not?". Now it should be "How's That?" or "Who Did What?" or "Is That Even Possible?". Many fans have deemed it the "WTF?" season.

This team is on the most improbable run in Baltimore Oriole history. Look no further than the team's run differential where, as of this morning, they have been outscored by 54 runs but still remain 9 games above .500. There are just a handful of teams over the last 15 years who have been outscored by the opposition and still had a winning record. The Orioles are the only team doing that in 2012.

Early in the season, I opined that this team could win, not make the playoffs, but win games more than they lost. But I figured they would need some luck to do this as they were not the deepest team in the division and any key injuries would derail the whole season.

Then Nolan Reimold, he of the .960 OPS in April went down for he season. Brian Roberts started the season on the DL, gave me hope when he returned in June but struggled and wound up back on the DL before the 4th of July. Endy Chavez, such as he was, went down, came back and went to the DL again. Nick Markakis got hurt. Reliever Matt Lindstrom, then Jason Hammel, our most effective starter got injured. Then mid-season acquisition Jim Thome got hurt. But through it all, the team kept winning. Through April, May and June, they just kept winning.

July looked to be breaking point where they finally had a losing month (13-14)as the injuries and struggling starting pitching seemed to finally be taking a toll. But now they are 5-2 in August and looking at the upcoming schedule, only Texas and Detroit strike me as being clearly better than Baltimore. This team could win in August too.

Every time something goes wrong, it seems like someone steps up to give the team a lift. Xavier Avery came up to lift the team when Reimold and Chavez were down. Steve Pearce and Chris Davis filled in nicely (or at least didn't embarrass themselves) when Markakis joined them on the DL. Stu Pomeranz provided quality innings for a couple of weeks when the bullpen was overworked. Omar Quintanilla brought a hot bat and steady defense to the lineup when Robert Andino went down. Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman and now Steve Johnson, none of whom were expected to contribute to the team before the season for various reasons, have steadied a banged up and ineffective starting rotation.

That 1989 team at least had some stability. They were led at the plate by Tettleton, Randy Milligan, Phil Bradley and Joe Orsulak all posted OPS+ numbers greater than 120. Only Adam Jones and Nick Markakis can make that claim on this team (and Markakis only very recently).

The 2012 Orioles are 10th in runs scored and 10th in runs allowed in the American League But today, they are tied for the Wild Card ticket into the postseason. Oriole Magic, indeed.

The Opening Day starter in pitching in AAA. Three of the five best Oriole hitters in 2011 have taken significant steps backwards and another is out for the season. Baltimore's defense is, to put it kindly, shaky. But the team keeps winning.

Sometimes things are just meant to be. This season has been insane. Eleven straight extra inning wins. Chris Davis pitching and winning in Boston and hitting a home run with a broken bat. The bullpen is the best in the AL and was assembled with kids, journeyman and spare parts. They have the highest winning percentage in 1-run games of any team since 1954. (A .786 winning percentage, just ahead of the 1981 and 1970 Oriole clubs.) Matt Wieters has 3 stolen bases and a triple for Christ's sake.

Now, the Orioles have called up 20-year old phenom Manny Machado to the big club. I could temper enthusiasm given struggles young players usually have jumping from AA straight to the majors but I wouldn't be surprised if he hits .300 for the rest of the season because that's the way 2012 has been going for the O's. Everything's been breaking their way.

Now that the trading deadline is over and I am sure that the team won't do something stupid to marginally improve this team, I am giving myself over to this team of destiny. I want this team to win, I want them to make the playoffs, I want them to take the division. And even if they miss the playoffs, this is still the most entertaining team I've seen since 1989.

Why not? Why the hell not?

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