It’s a shame Edgar Allan Poe wrote “The Raven,” because the Baltimore Orioles made analysts eat plenty of crow this season. Many preseason prognosticators knew the Orioles would hit, but dropped them down to last in the division based on a weak starting rotation. Nevermore!
While you wouldn’t confuse the 2016 Orioles starting rotation with the 2015 New York Mets, the team did see development in that area. On top of that, the O’s hit exactly like everyone expected. Even on days when the starters let them down, the Orioles were never truly out of a game. And once they took a lead, forget it. The bullpen once again turned in a fantastic performance, and closer Zach Britton might even grab some MVP votes for his services.
The Orioles aren’t perfect, but we’re guessing they wouldn’t have it any other way. The team has already defied so many expectations this season, that winning the World Series would be the ultimate dollop of whipped cream on the humble pie they’ve served analysts all year.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five reasons the Orioles can go all the way this season:
NO ONE TEAM SHOULD HAVE ALL THAT POWER
The Orioles led all of baseball this season with 253 home runs. That’s impressive enough, but then you consider the following:
— MLB Stat of the Day (@MLBStatoftheDay) October 2, 2016
Yeah, those 253 home runs are the fifth most all-time by a single team. The 2016 Orioles are one of the best home-run hitting teams ever.
That’s not exactly a surprise when you check out their lineup. Mark Trumbo smashed a major-league leading 47 dingers this season. Behind him, both Chris Davis and Manny Machado each managed more than 35 home runs of their own. All told, six players on the club smacked at least 20 bombs this year. With that type of offense, this team is never out of a game.
MANNY MACHADO DESERVES YOUR ATTENTION
We should talk about Manny Machado for a second. The 24-year-old turned in another fantastic season, and is undoubtedly one of the top 10 players in baseball (probably top 5). And yet, no one is really talking about him. The race for American League MVP has pretty much been boiled down to four names, with Machado currently sitting fifth. The players ahead of Machado deserve credit for their numbers, but it certainly seems like Machado is getting overlooked. The guy hit an impressive .294/.344/.535, with 37 home runs, over 692 plate appearances. He might also be the best defensive player in baseball. Machado isn’t likely to be rewarded for his numbers in the regular season, so he’ll have to make up for it by leading the O’s to a World Series title.
ZACH BRITTON IS AWESOME
Though he’s been one of the best closers in baseball for years now, Zach Britton’s 2016 will be viewed as a breakout. Even though he’s been mentioned as a possible MVP candidate, and should receive some votes for the award, it still seems like Britton flies under the radar. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t strike out guys like Aroldis Chapman, and he isn’t known for one wipeout pitch like Andrew Miller. What Britton does incredibly well is get ground balls. That might not sound exciting, but it’s important. Keeping the ball on the ground nearly 80 percent of the time means you rarely give up game-tying home runs. If Britton does find himself in some trouble, he’s always one pitch away from a game-ending double play. And while he won’t lead relievers in strikeouts, Britton still whiffed over a batter per inning … so, yeah, tough to find a weakness here. That’s to be expected with a guy who put up a 0.55 ERA this season.
THE ROTATION SAW SOME GROWTH
The starting rotation is still the club’s main weakness, but the group did take some promising steps this year. After years of tinkering with his role, Kevin Gausman developed into a legitimate starter. He posted a 3.66 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning. Chris Tillman bounced back in a big way, posting a 3.77 ERA after putting up an awful 4.99 ERA in 2015. On top of that, former uber-prospect Dylan Bundy stayed healthy and looked decent when he got a chance in the rotation. That trio can keep you in games. With this offense and bullpen, that’s all the club needs.
No manager has done more with less this season than Buck Showalter. The team’s rotation, while improved, wasn’t much to write home about this year. Showalter has been able to offset that weakness by utilizing his bullpen wisely. It’s not just Britton, either. Showalter has turned both Mychal Givens and Brad Brach into legitimate, back-end weapons. While Darren O’Day had some issues with home runs this year, he remains an effective strikeout artist. This is far from the first time Showalter has put his relievers in the right situations to succeed. Having him in the dugout gives the Orioles an advantage, especially in the late innings.
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