Seven wins on an 11-game west coast road trip are enough to turn even the Orioles' fiercest doubter into a believer in 2013. For the first time this season, I stopped comparing this year's team to its surprising playoff roster from a year ago and instead just enjoyed watching the O's starters pitch a 3.76 ERA, the bullpen to a 3.60 mark and cheered as the offense totaled 5.27 runs per game against the A's, Mariners and Angels.
It took just over a month for me to stop making that comparison and to instead just believe in the talent on this year's roster. I suppose a lot of that has to do with the Orioles slow offseason. However, a closer examination of Dan Duquette's strategy will reveal quite a few differences between the current roster and the one from a season ago.
For starters, the Orioles are hoping they won't be without Nick Markakis for 58 games like they were last year. The Birds' right fielder played in the fewest games of his eight-year career, but still managed to hit .298/.363/.471 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs in 471 plate appearances. The O's also had Nate McLouth for only 55 games in 2012. His incredible start to the 2013 season (.313/.411/.490 with 10 RBIs and nine stolen bases) is reason enough to nullify comparisons between this year's team and 2012.
But it's Manny Machado who really makes this Orioles team unique. The Birds were without their young third baseman for 111 games last season and he's made a dramatic impact on the state of the club in 2013. On the Orioles' recent road trip, the 20-year-old recorded 18 hits (six of which were doubles, three were homers) and drove in seven. He recorded a 1.077 OPS and scored 11 of the team's 58 runs.
I can't get over Machado and I hope Baltimore is enjoying watching this kid play as much as I am. We are getting to watch a star in the making, a player that could lead this offense for years to come. Batting Machado second seemed to be an experiment for Buck Showalter at the start of the season. Not anymore.
Machado's .522 slugging percentage is third in the American League for third baseman. He's behind 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and three-time All-Star Evan Longoria. That's pretty good company.
He leads the AL East in RBIs for a third baseman (21) and is five ahead of three-time Silver Slugger Adrian Beltre. With runners in scoring position, Machado is hitting .394/.429/.848 with two doubles, a triple, three home runs and 19 RBIs. He has seven hits in 14 at-bats, with 12 RBIs when runners are in scoring position with two outs. He seems to shine in pressure situations.
Mike Trout often grabs headlines for being the American League's young shining star. The 2012 Rookie of the Year gave the Angels a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning with his fifth home run of the season in Sunday's finale in Anaheim. Machado took that lead right back with his fifth homer in the top of the next inning. The O's third baseman has a higher batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage than Trout, and has one more extra-base hit.
Machado isn't eligible to win Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 after recording 191 at-bats in the big leagues last season. Had he kept that number under 130, he would be the top candidate for this year's award.
The run differential and one-run game comparisons make for interesting baseball banter, but don't offer a fair evaluation of this year's team to the one of a season ago. A full season of Machado is just one of the many reasons the Orioles believe they will be right in the thick of things come October. So far, there's no reason to doubt it.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. 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.