Aug 25, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles teammates celebrate after a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Rays 9-1. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: What it will take to win it all

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What will it take for the Baltimore Orioles, or any other team for that matter, to win it all? The answer to this question can be defined in sabermetrical terms, though I want to speak of it more generically and defer most of the statistics for analysis at another time.

To win short series we know it takes good starting pitching, timely hitting, and shut-down bullpens. But even some of the best teams with rosters brimming with players such as these will sometimes not breeze through to championships.

What is needed is for a majority of players on a team to be performing at the top of, or above, their historic statistical average level of play.

Look at the 2013 Red Sox. It was a nice roster, though certainly it was not one that would have been selected by many to have the season that they put together, culminating in the World Series Championship. But a number of the players had career years, and they cumulatively put together a strong effort toward the end of the season.

This is true when looking back at each of the past four World Series champions, examining the records over their final 20 and 30 games of the regular season …

TEAM   Final 20 Games      Final 30 Games
2013 Red Sox   12-8    20-10
2012 Giants   14-6    20-10
2011 Cardinals   15-5    21-9
2010 Giants   12-8    20-10

 

Can the Baltimore Orioles be a team like this? They actually have been for some time now. Over the past 20 games they are 14-6, and over they have a record of 33-17 over the past 50 games. But the O’s are going to need to sustain this pace and not simply limp home with a narrow divisional title.

And are the Orioles a squad with a strong majority of players performing at the top of their historic mid-range performance, or even definitely above average? Let’s think it through…

Starting Pitching – It is certainly true that, particularly over the past two months, the starting pitchers have performed above the level of their historic numbers. Chris Tillman is now throwing at a level equal to his best season last year. Miguel Gonzalez, Budd Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen are generally all pitching somewhat above historic norms. Of course, Ubaldo Jimenez is another story altogether, and Kevin Gausman is essentially learning on the job.

Relief Pitching – Without doubt, the bullpen is performing at an extremely high level. Exceptions might be Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz, though they are not regular liabilities. Brad Brach and T.J. McFarland have given some very effective length and bridged the gap from a weak start on many occasions. And Andrew Miller, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton are throwing at the very best levels of their respective careers. This bullpen has not been overused, nor will they now be with the addition of arms in the expanded rosters.

Hitting – It is hit and miss (get it?). Yes, way too many misses in several situations. How many Orioles hitters are having career years? Steve Pearce is for sure. Can you name another? Producing in line with historic numbers would be Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, and Delmon Young when he plays. I did not include Nelson Cruz. He had a career first half of the season, and it likely saved the Orioles from early destruction; but he has not hit anywhere near his historic average for many weeks now. Not to dump on Chris Davis, but even a .250 average over the rest of 2014 would make a huge difference in what has been a precipitous drop-off from 2013. And we can put Jonathan Schoop and Caleb Joseph in the same category as Gausman in terms of learning on the job.  

Though no one can predict the future with certainty, there is reason to believe that the total pitching component of the Orioles will stay competitive through to the final game. But even while being thankful for the MLB-leading numbers of home runs, it is the offensive production that is going to need to power this team through to the end of any championship aspirations and accomplishments. They’re not that far away from it; it would only take a couple guys to catch fire.

The Orioles can do this. There is no other team running away with it. At the All-Star break, the Oakland A’s appeared to be head and shoulders above the rest of the American League. Not so anymore. At the trade deadline, the Detroit Tigers looked to have secured an unbeatable rotation, but they are fighting for their wildcard lives right now. Kansas City is the hottest team in the AL.

The Baltimore Orioles have a realistic chance just as much as anyone else in the playoffs picture. But it will take a full-team effort to get hot and stay hot.

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