Back during the early days of Dempsey’s Army, I used to write a preseason series of posts with the loose theme, “How the Orioles Can Win the East.” In that series, I would lay out five things that would have to go right for Baltimore and, conversely, five things that would have to go wrong for each of our division rivals.
The series was half tongue-in-cheek and I eventually scrapped it because people were taking it too seriously. But the underlying point remains true, at least I think so. For a worst-to-first even to happen, lots of things have to go right for the upstart team and lots of things have to go wrong for the rest of the division to present the opportunity.
While this convergence of events is unlikely, it has happened several times in the history of baseball and even as woeful as the 2010 and 2011 teams were, the composition of the team was such that a miracle season could have happened, however unlikely.
The 2012 season is shaping up like one of my old series of posts and the Orioles find themselves in first place. Let’s take a quick look at what’s gone right for Baltimore and what’s gone wrong for their division rivals.
Toronto Blue Jays
1. Injuries to starting pitchers Jesse Litsch and Dustin McGowan
2. Closer Francisco Cordero struggling and overall bullpen ineffectiveness
3. Lack of development and production from first baseman Adam Lind
4. Lack of development and production from center fielder Colby Rasmus
5. Slow start at the plate for slugger Jose Bautista
Boston Red Sox
1. Injury to MVP runner-up center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury
2. The regression of starting pitcher Clay Bucholz
3. The poor start from staff ace Josh Beckett
4. The injuries and apparent decline of third baseman Kevin Youkilis
5. The injury to left fielder Carl Crawford
New York Yankees
1. Season-ending injury to closer Mariano Rivera
2. Season-ending injury to starting Michael Pineda and struggles of the rotation outside of CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda
3. The general mediocrity of first baseman Mark Teixeira’s bat
4. The regression of Russel Martin’s offense
5. The slow start of second baseman Robinson Cano
Tampa Bay Rays
1. Third baseman Evan Longoria’s serious hamstring injury
2. The early season struggles of starting pitcher Matt Moore
3. Injury to young left fielder Desmond Jennings
4. A shallow bullpen
5. The continued offensive stagnation and poor defense (thus far) of center fielder B.J. Upton
1. The great leap forward of Adam Jones’ bat
2. The development of Matt Wieters’ bat and his excellent defense
3. Starting pitcher Jason Hammel as the surprise staff ace
4. Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen taking role as team’s No. 2 starter
5. The stellar bullpen performance
Now, a couple of these teams will have some of their minuses turned into pluses at some point. The Rays, for example, seem primed to make a big second half surge if they get a healthy Longoria back by July. This will make it tough for the Orioles to hang around all season.
But the Orioles still have bullets left in the gun. Bill Hall looks like he found the Fountain of Youth. Top prospect Xavier Avery looks like he is ready to contribute to the big club ahead of schedule. (Raise you hand is you saw Avery’s start to the 2012 season coming.) Norfolk starting pitcher Steve Johnson is tearing up the International League. Outfielder Nolan Reimold will come back eventually, as will the big bat (let’s forget about the glove for now) of Mark Reynolds. Shortstop J.J. Hardy is just starting to hit. Starting pitcher Zach Britton could give the rotation a lift if he comes back healthy. And starting pitcher Brian Matusz has a 3.91 ERA over his past four starts and is showing signs of improvement after his nightmare 2011 season.
Along with their fine play, the Orioles will still need to catch some breaks and avoid the injury bug if they hope to take the division title in 2012. But the way things are breaking so far, I expect them to hang around for most of the season.
Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.