Attitude, Pitching Key Early Season Success

The 2012 season looked lost before it even started.  Rather than go after a big name free agent like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, new GM Dan Duquette and his regime decided that now was not the time to drop a couple hundred million dollars on a marquee free agent because the squad wasn’t close to contending.  At first it looked like another case of Orioles management taking the cheap way out.  However, looking at it logically, it made sense not to spend that much money on one player when the O’s were looking at another last place finish in the AL East—at least according to national baseball experts.  All preseason prediction columns I saw had the O’s finishing as one of the worst teams in the majors.  Now, it seems like the team took this personally and bonded over being pushed aside not only by the national media, but by their own management.

The most notable transactions of the offseason were sending fan-favorite Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom and signing a couple free agents from the Japanese League, Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada.  While Wada will undergo Tommy John surgery to fix his elbow and miss the rest of the season, Hammel, Chen, Lindstrom and the rest of the pitching staff has been the key to the O’s major league best 19-9 start.

Per ESPN and with all numbers through the series sweep of the Red Sox, the Orioles current team ERA is 2.78, which is second in MLB behind only the Washington Nationals.  The 2011 Orioles ranked dead last in the bigs with a 4.89 team ERA.  Breaking these numbers down even further, the 2012 Orioles feature a bullpen with a remarkable 1.41 ERA (over 95.2 innings pitched, which is 4th most in the majors).  The ERA of the starting rotation is 3.56, good enough for 10th in the majors.  These numbers are a far cry from the 2011 version of the Orioles, whose bullpen had a 4.18 ERA (27th best…or 4th worst) and whose starting rotation had a major league worst 5.39 ERA.

You can look at numbers all you want (and, boy, those numbers do look nice, especially for a team whose pitching has been atrocious for the past decade or so) but what has stood out the most to me is the team’s newfound confidence.  They seem to be playing with a chip on their shoulder.  After pitching seven scoreless innings on opening day, Jake Arrieta said the Orioles “take it personal that most people write us off from the get-go.  We made a statement today: We’ve got a lot to play for this year.”

Admittedly, 28 games of a season is an extremely small sample size.  After all, the O’s started 19-9 in 2005 but finished the year at 74-88.  However, that team was filled with aging veterans and the hot start covered up some very mediocre pitching.  This year’s surge is more encouraging considering most of the regulars are in their prime ages for career years (26-28 years old) and the pitching has been much, much, much more effective.

After going 5-1 on a 6 game road trip through New York and Boston, another test waits in Baltimore as the Texas Rangers, preseason favorites for the AL pennant, come to town for 4 games.  As Adam Jones said after the O’s beat the Red Sox 8-2 on Saturday: “We need to be hungry, keep the momentum going.”

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