Last night, the Orioles won, walking off the Yankees in the 9th to lower their magic number to 3. It seems all but inevitable that they will clinch their first AL East pennant since 1997 within the next few days, perhaps as early as tomorrow.
And yet, many are likely asking: “Where the hell did these guys come from?”
It’s not a bad question, as the Orioles have continued to win, even after losing not one (Matt Wieters), not two (Manny Machado), but three former or current All-Stars to either injury or, in Davis’ case, suspension. In fact, if anything, they seem to have gotten better with every big player they’ve lost.
So, to answer some questions about the Orioles, here’s a Q&A:
Okay, so, the Orioles do still have Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, right?
Yes. They do.
And both of them were actually developed in the Orioles farm system?
Only half correct. Markakis was 100% home grown, but Adam Jones was originally in the Mariners system and was acquired in a trade for Erik Bedard back in 2008.
Oh, bummer for the Mariners. Anybody else from that trade on the Orioles roster?
Chris Tillman. Currently 12-5 with a 3.29 ERA.
Wow, the Mariners really screwed that up, didn’t they?
Yes, yes they did.
By the way, alongside Tillman, the Orioles rotation has done pretty good this year, what’s their story?
Wei-Yin Chen, a lefty who is currently 15-4 with a 3.59 ERA and some of the best control in the league (he has had the 5th lowest percentage of BB/9 in the AL this year), was acquired from Japan, where he was a member of the NPB Chunichi Dragons. Before that, he played in his native Taiwan.
Ubaldo Jimenez was acquired as a free agent this last offseason, and has not lived up to his $50 million dollar contract, with a ERA approaching five. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be a starter during the postseason.
Bud Norris was acquired from Houston in 2013 in a trade for L.J. Hoes and a minor leaguer.
Miguel Gonzalez was signed as a free agent in 2012, having never reached the Majors during his time in the Angels or Red Sox systems. He’s 9-8 with a 3.28 ERA.
And, finally, there is Kevin Gausman, the lone member of the starting rotation who is 100% Orioles. Although he was up and down between Baltimore and AAA Norfolk this year, at least some of that had more to do with taking advantage of MLB service time rules than his actual performance (he has a perfectly respectable 3.57 ERA). Only 23 and one of the top prospects for Baltimore, he loves powdered donuts and has a fastball that can hit triple digits at times.
Hang on, so those five guys and Chris Tillman have been the Orioles rotation this year? It looks like a bunch of guys who’d be mid-rotation guys on other teams.
Yeah. Feels that way, doesn’t it? In fact, if you were to look at FanGraphs’ pitching WAR leaders, you don’t see an Oriole until you get to 47 on the list- Tillman, who’s just ahead of Kyle Gibson of the Twins. If you were to look at the rotation’s FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching, basically what a pitcher’s ERA would be like if they were pitching in laboratory settings with average fielding, luck, etc.), you’d see none of them have one under 4.
So, perhaps the Orioles’ rotation is playing over it’s head, getting lucky and taking advantage of the offense supporting them and the defense behind them. Another way to look at it, though, would be that perhaps having 5 steady mid-rotation guys is better than having one or two aces followed by more questionable pitching. I don’t know.
Okay, enough about pitchers? How about the long-ball?
Nelson Cruz was probably among this past off-season’s best free agent signings, as he’s worked his way from PED-suspended disgrace and poor fielder to dinger-pounding DH (currently 39 on the season), although he has cooled off significantly in the second half of the season, only hitting 11 of the 39 after the All-Star Break.
The next highest number of home runs on the Orioles is 26, by Chris Davis, who isn’t available. Adam Jones has been having a good power year, though, and is currently at 25 homers for the year. Steve Pearce, a super-utility/backup 1B/backup OF, has been having a career year at the plate with 17 HRs. He’s another good free agent signing.
Say, where did the Orioles get JJ Hardy, again?
They acquired him from the Twins in 2010 for such immortals as Jim Hoey and Brett Jacboson.
So, who is Jonathan Schoop and how do I say his last name?
He’s a international free agent signing from Curaco, a member of the WBC Honkballers, long one of the top infield prospects in the Orioles system, and his last name is pronounced like “scope”.
Now, where’d the bullpen come from?
The bullpen is basically made up of failed starting pitching prospects. Closer Zach Britton? He was a starter coming up. Same for Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter (Hunter was initially a starter for the Rangers, and was acquired in the same deal that brought Chris Davis to Baltimore) and Andrew Miller (who the Orioles acquired in July from Boston). Only Darren O’Day has never started a game in the big leagues. He, by the way, was taken off waivers from the Rangers back in 2011.
So, anybody else notable?
Delmon Young. David Lough. Ryan Flaherty. The Orioles have plenty of guys who you know you remember still being in the league but can’t quite remember much about. Well, Ryan Flaherty has been with the Orioles since he was acquired in the 2011 Rule 5 draft, but still.
So, really, how are the Orioles doing this?
They made some good acquisitions, a good bullpen and lineup, and the pitching is good enough. Also, they sacrificed Wieters’ UCL and Machado’s knee to the baseball gods. Only rational explanation.