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        All the hops and “chops,” if you will, seem to have been going the Baltimore Orioles way all season long in 2012.  As the summer came, the question around baseball seemed to be, when will the Orioles fade away?  Now, in late September, with Buck Showalter’s squad right in the thick of a pennant race, the question seems to have shifted to, how have they been able to get it done?  They sit just one game behind the Yankees and currently lead the wild card standings.  The Orioles lack a superstar player, maybe with the one exception being Adam Jones (.288/.338/.502 31HR 79 RBI).  Other than the former Mariner, the O’s do not have a player batting over .261.  They have had to mix and match all year long, especially when trying to discover a productive leadoff hitter.  Right as Nick Markakis looked to be the guy for the job, he went down with a season-ending injury.  Before Markakis, the leadoff spot was a huge disappointment.  In mid-July, the Orioles leadoff hitters collectively had an on-base percentage (OBP) of .264 (Chavez, Andino, Roberts, Avery, Reimold, Flaherty all being used in this capacity).  That is an ugly stat for any spot in the batting order, let alone leadoff.  Finally, as Markakis settled into the role (.363 OBP at time of injury), he went down with a gruesome hand injury.  However, like their rival in the pinstripes, the Orioles have gotten great power production from guys all over the place.  They currently are third in the American League in home runs as a team with 192.  
         Meanwhile, unlike the Bronx Bombers, the Orioles lack a legitimate ace in their rotation.  They have had 12 different pitchers start a game in 2012.  Other than Wei-Yin Chen (30 starts), nobody has started more than 20 games.  Also other than Chen, nobody has tossed more than 128 innings.  Of all 12 pitchers to make a start this year, 5 have compiled an ERA over 5.  With all the innings and games thrown by Chen, he has been very average this season (3.98 ERA, 105 ERA+).  Jason Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez, and Chris Tillman have all enjoyed some success (3.43 ERA 122 ERA+, 3.52 ERA 119 ERA+, 3.22 ERA 130 ERA+, respectively).  Of course, the problem here is injuries and not enough innings, which has led to bad outings from other guys.  This Oriole team is also 12th in the American League in defense, committing 99 errors.  The O’s are in the middle or bottom or the pack in a lot of important pitching and offensive stats.  They are 8th in ERA and Batting Average Against as a staff.  They are 11th in OBP, 6th in AVG, and 7th in runs scored.  With these numbers, how can they possibly be keeping pace with a team like the New York Yankees?  There are a few possible answers to this puzzling question.  The most underrated part of a 25-man roster, the bullpen, for this team has been lights-out all season.  Of relievers with more than 36 innings pitched, only one guy (Kevin Gregg)  owns an ERA of over 3.  These guys include Jim Johnson (2.69), Luis Ayala (2.69), Darren O’Day (2.37), Pedro Strop (2.26), Troy Patton (2.58), and Matt Lindstrom (2.72).  With the mighty struggles of the starters at times, and the fact the only 1 starter has thrown a complete game this season, the bullpen has been nothing short of excellent.  Looking back, playoff teams and World Series winners always seem to have a strong bullpen (i.e. 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, 2009 New York Yankees).  And as if it could not be any better, they just called up the best pitching prospect in baseball equipped with this insane pitch (45 second mark). 
          Another startling stat is the Orioles record in one-run games and extra-inning games.  These stats could be lucky or just coincidental, but I like to call them clutch.  They are 27-8 in one-run games and 16-2 in extra innings.  Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter have done a magnificent job with this team in 2012.  Duquette has taken some chances and been very aggressive in making low-risk moves throughout the season.  He has picked up guys like Nate McClouth, Lew Ford, Joe Saunders, Randy Wolf, etc.  These guys are not big names, and some may have even been completely forgotten about by the baseball world (looking at you Lew Ford), but they have made contributions to help the team win.  One last interesting stat belongs to Taylor Teagarden.  In just 50 at bats he has 7 hits, good for a .140 batting average.  Nothing special right?  Of the 7 hits, he has 3 doubles, 2 home runs and 8 runs batted in.  That’s the kind of season it has been for this club.  A season filled with clutch performances and excitement.  Look for the Baltimore Orioles to "Buckle Up" this October and make some noise for the first time since 1997.   

 


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