We’ve reached the All-Star break and everything has gone according to plan for the Orioles, said no one ever.
Let me run this scenario past you:
It’s late March and the Orioles are preparing to break camp. I post a morning blog entry informing you that third baseman Manny Machado won’t be ready for opening day and will miss the first month of the season while recovering from knee surgery, and another five games due to a suspension. You gasp with such force, all the air is sucked out of the room, but I’m not done.
Catcher Matt Wieters will play in 26 games due to an elbow injury that requires “Tommy John” surgery. His backup, Steve Clevenger, will be optioned before June. Chris Davis will bat .199 with 15 home runs in the first half, and also will go on the disabled list with an oblique injury. J.J. Hardy will hit three home runs before the break.
Oh, there’s more.
Second basemen Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty will bat .221 and .226, respectively, before the break. David Lough will hit .197. Tommy Hunter will lose the closer’s job. Ubaldo Jimenez will lose eight of 11 decisions and lead the majors in walks. Chris Tillman will make two starts where he fails to record an out in the second inning.
Still not done. Pull up a chair.
Josh Stinson and Evan Meek will make the team out of spring training and both come off the 40-man roster. Miguel Gonzalez will go on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Bud Norris will go on the DL with a groin injury. Johan Santana won’t make it back to the majors after blowing out his Achilles tendon at extended spring training. Henry Urrutia will undergo sports hernia surgery. Suk-min Yoon will be diagnosed with a shoulder impingement.
(Why I chose to sit on that news until the morning is irrelevant. It’s also inconceivable, but please continue to play along.)
Once you’ve had time to absorb this tidal wave of bad news, I’ll tell you that the Orioles will go into the break in first place and 10 games above .500. And you will:
1. Wonder how in the world this is possible.
2. Wonder why I’m allowed to drink on the job.
The answer is quite obvious: I do a lot of my writing from home.
Doesn’t it blow your mind that the list of bad things is long enough to replace the orange carpet on opening day? You read it before the season starts, you’re sure that the Orioles are buried in last place.
No “what went wrong” blog entry should be filed without noting “what went right.” Perhaps that will explain the situation.
Nelson Cruz may be the best bargain in baseball at $8 million for one year. He’s already exceeded his home run total of last season with 28, to go with 74 RBIs, and he will be the American League’s starting designated hitter Tuesday night in the All-Star Game. There were stretches when he carried this team.
Zach Britton turned into a shutdown closer, registering 15 saves in 17 opportunities and not allowing a run at Camden Yards in a club-record 31 1/3 consecutive innings. He’s strung together 10 scoreless appearances since the blown save in the Bronx on June 20.
Darren O’Day is passing leads to Britton and getting big outs. He hasn’t allowed a run in his last 10 appearances, walking two (one intentional) and striking out 14 in 11 innings, and his 1.11 ERA is the lowest among AL relievers.
Machado is back to being ridiculously good - at the plate and in the field. He’s hitting .410 in his last 16 games.
Steve Pearce was let go, brought back and made a full-time starter. He’s batting .316 with a career-high 11 homers and 31 RBIs, and also playing solid defense in left field and at first base. One of the most pleasant first-half surprises in baseball.
Tillman isn’t completely back to 2013 form, but he’s registered six quality starts in his last seven outings. Norris allowed two runs in his last 19 2/3 starts before going on the DL and may have been the best starter on the staff. It all starts with starting pitching, folks.
The Orioles are 9-3 in extra innings, bringing back visions of the 2012 season. They’re resilient.
And finally, the American League East is down this year. There’s no denying it. It used to be a beast. Now, it looks like Snuggle Bear.
Honorable mention goes to Brad Brach, who has allowed one run in his last eight appearances covering 14 2/3 innings. He has four wins in his last eight outings.
Also, Nick Markakis is batting .288 atop the order and he leads the club with nine outfield assists. Adam Jones is starting again in the All-Star Game.
Yeah, yeah, he doesn’t walk enough and he chases pitches down and away. He’s batting .301 with 19 doubles, two triples, 16 homers and 54 RBIs. He’s batting .300 with runners in scoring position and .326 with RISP and two outs.
He also plays on a first-place team that’s 10 games above .500.
Can you believe it?