They were swept by the Yankees in Baltimore.
They dropped a series against the Angels in Los Angeles.
They were battered in two extra inning victories (13 and 17-inning games respectively) at Fenway Park against the Red Sox.
They took a pounding from homer-happy Josh Hamilton and the high-flying Texas Rangers in Camden Yards.
They lost two key outfielders, a power-hitting corner infielder and a top reliever. Their best starting pitcher in April recently had to skip a start due to knee soreness.
And yet the 2012 Baltimore Orioles find themselves at 22-12 and in first place in the infamous American League East.
Recently, the squad has been marred with a plethora of key injuries, including the losses of Nolan Reimold, Endy Chavez, Mark Reynolds and Matt Lindstrom in the past week. To compensate, the organization has had to fish around the Triple-A Norfolk roster to find players that could play the role of “fillers” until the starters can find themselves back and healthy.
Among those “fillers” are starting pitcher Dana Eveland, third baseman Steve Tolleson, veteran utility man Bill Hall, youngsters Luis Exposito (catcher) and Stuart Pomeranz (relief pitcher), and the up-and-coming Xavier Avery.
On Saturday, three of those players made a significant impact on a 5-3 victory over the second place Tampa Bay Rays. Tolleson laced a two-run single, Exposito caught all nine innings and reached base on a catcher’s interference to begin a two-run rally, and Hall drilled his first home run as an Oriole over the right field wall.
One of the other men named, Eveland, tossed six innings of three-run ball en route to a 4-3 Orioles victory on Friday night. He was playing the role of “spot starter” while Jason Hammel nurses a sore knee.
To make things a tad more interesting, the Orioles should be reuniting with former shortstop Miguel Tejada in the coming weeks, as they signed him to a minor league deal on Tuesday due to the defensive issues at third base this season (Reynolds and Betemit were tough to watch at the “hot corner.”).
Now I’ll be brutally honest: I have a hard time explaining the 2012 O’s to people who ask about them.
Why have they been so solid this season?
There are a number of obvious reasons.
For starters, it’s hard to not notice the dominance of the bullpen.
The pen looked to be a massive question mark in the offseason; however, General Manager Dan Duquette has essentially crafted a work of art. Guys like Matt Lindstrom (when healthy), Luis Ayala, Pedro Strop, Darren O’Day and Troy Patton have had ridiculous numbers through the first month of the season. Even guys like closer Jim Johnson, who had a slow start in Spring Training, and Kevin Gregg (yes, even Kevin Gregg) have come around to complete one of the most dominant relief staffs in the MLB (currently the second-ranked bullpen in the majors).
Another key to look at is the young starting staff.
Starters Jake Arrieta (2-3, 4.23 ERA), Tommy Hunter (2-2, 5.14 ERA), Jason Hammel (4-1, 2.09 ERA), Wei-Yin Chen (3-0, 2.68 ERA) and Brian Matusz (2-4, 5.73 ERA) have not only given the club its fair share of quality starts (20), but they have also pitched deep into games, giving the bullpen adequate rest on a nightly basis.
And finally, how could we forget the long ball.
Even when the team’s leading home run hitter in 2011 has a mere two dingers, the Orioles have still found a way to lead the league in HRs with 53. Cornerstone players like Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis have carried the team in the power department, hitting 10, eight, seven and six homers respectively.
The 2012 Orioles don’t have the electricity of the dominating Texas Rangers.
They don’t have the young phenoms like the Washington Nationals.
They don’t win games by a margin of 10 every week.
Heck, they don’t even play good defense (They’re currently second in the majors with 34 errors committed.).
But somehow, the Orioles continue to find ways to win.
Whether or not they can keep it up is beyond me. For now, though, I’ll simply sit back, put on my cap sporting the old cartoon bird, and enjoy the ride.
The O’s are sitting high-and-mighty in first place in the AL East. That’s all that matters right now.
It’s Orioles magic…feel it happen.
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