If there is one part of the 2013 Orioles that has been steady from the start, it's without question been defense. The O's are on pace to break records for both fielding percentage and fewest errors in a season. Of the three major elements in baseball - pitching, hitting and defense - the latter is the one part where there are simply no worries.
It's those other two that have had ups and downs throughout the season. Whether it's the starting pitching, the bullpen arms, or the inconsistent bats, it hasn't always been easy. Prior to the July 31 trading deadline, many asked what the Birds would be in the market for and what they would target. After acquiring three pitchers, two of whom start, I'm starting to wonder if the team went in the right direction. That's not to say Scott Feldman, Bud Norris and Francisco Rodriguez haven't contributed in positive ways to the team. It also doesn't factor the possible hitters out there on other teams that the O's could have plucked.
The O's offense is extremely potent, ranking in the top five in most major categories. Yet, somehow the team has found itself in more close games than anyone in baseball. The Orioles lead the majors in save opportunities. A reliever has entered a game in a save situation 66 times, with Jim Johnson coming in for 48 of those. Is the starting pitching to blame for this? Or does it trickle back to the offense, despite the fact that it is among the league's elite?
If the lineup isn't putting enough runs on the board, it leads to tight, pressure-filled games that fall back on the bullpen in the later innings. That pressure would appear to have gotten to the relievers in the last few weeks. It's a group that leads MLB with 45 team saves this year, but when you couple that with the 66 opportunities, the percentage is not very strong.
Many fans and pundits alike have screamed for the Orioles to acquire an "ace" pitcher to stick in the rotation. The mindset that a top-of-the-line starter could fix all of the team's issues has been entrenched for quite some time. Every team would like that type of pitcher, but the truth is that there are only maybe eight or 10 in the game today.
Despite the fact that this team is producing strong offensive numbers, I think it's going to need more down the stretch if a second straight postseason berth is to be. This doesn't mean the O's have to go out and acquire someone to be an everyday designated hitter. It also doesn't mean Chris Davis has to hit a homer every night. All this offense has to do from now until the end of the season is take some pressure off the pitching staff.
The Orioles are a better team than the one in 2012. The offense is putting up the numbers. The defense is worlds better and on record pace. The starting pitching has more consistency and is really rounding out nicely since the acquisitions of Feldman and Norris. The one part of the team that has been weaker is the bullpen. No one expected this year's group of relievers to put up the astronomical season they did last year. A little bit of breathing room from the bats would help combat the number of pressure situations that the bullpen is placed in.
The other issue the Orioles could face in getting back to October is the fact that they aren't the only team that is better. The rest of the American League has stepped up and there is more competition out there. Just look around at the standings. The Birds are not only in competition for the AL East crown with the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees (yes, they are still in the picture), but the wild card chase involves more teams this year as well.
The Orioles have the team to make it back to October, and even deep into the playoffs. The question isn't what players are on the field, but how they execute when on it. But whether or not these O's venture once again into postseason baseball, it's important to remember that they are better than last year's version. As long as the 2014 squad can continue that trend of growth, good things are bound to happen for baseball in Baltimore.
Andrew Stetka blogs about the Orioles for Eutaw Street Report. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. 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.