I would struggle to come up with anything more surprising in baseball this year than the start the Baltimore Orioles are off to after more than a quarter of the season has passed. This is more surprising than the struggles of Albert Pujols, the hot start by the Dodgers, or the weakness of the Red Sox or Phillies.
Heading into the season the Orioles were all but universally picked to finish dead-last in the American League East, and Sportsbook.com set their season win total at just 69.5 wins.
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Yet here they are sitting atop the standings in the American League, and behind only the Dodgers in all of baseball. Their 28 wins in 45 games has them on pace for 100 wins. At their current rate they would go over that win total in just 112 games.
Given the unexpected success, it’s no surprise that they have been by far the most profitable team in the league as well for MLB handicappers.
If anyone tries to tell you that they saw this coming then they are simply lying to you. It’s happening, though, so now bettors have to figure out whether it can keep happening — whether the Orioles can keep performing as well as they have been, or if the start is just a mirage that will seem like a distant memory by the time September rolls around. Here’s a look:
Showalter would be a stone-cold lock for Manager of the Year if the trophy was awarded right now — some hardware to add to the two times he has already won that award. He has had highs and lows en route to more than 1,000 career wins as a manager, but right now he has this team right where he needs them to be.
The most obvious thing when you watch even a few minutes of the team play is that Showalter is having fun. He’s looser than he has ever been, and that’s having a big impact on the team. It’s almost as if he knows that this is likely his last good shot at the helm of a team, and that he has nothing to lose with this team.
Showalter’s approach tends to wear thin sooner or later with his teams, but for now he’s clearly the right guy for the time.
A good team needs a good rotation. It may not have looked on paper like the Orioles would succeed on that front this year, but so far they certainly have.
Jason Hammel clearly likes sea level better than the Rocky Mountain highs because he is pitching better in his first year in Baltimore than he ever did in Colorado. That may change once American League hitters get used to him, but for now it has been impressive.
Wei-Yin Chin was a relative unknown coming over from Japan this year, but the lefty has been more than solid.
Homegrown products Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta and Texas product Tommy Hunter haven’t been perfect, but for the bottom half of the rotation they have been adequate — and often much more than that. Matusz was terrible early in the year, but it’s too his credit that he has gotten things on track recently. Arrieta needs to find his consistency, but when he is good he is really good. Hunter has started off really well in games, but stamina is a real issue for him and he’s vulnerable in later innings.
The best news of all for the team, though, is that Zach Britton, the preseason ace of the rotation who was injured in Spring Training, is at the tail end of his rehab and should be in the majors soon. That should allow Hunter to improve an already solid bullpen, and it will allow the rotation to be even better than it has been.
Hunter would be a welcome addition to the relief corps — they have pitched above expectations and have had a good deal of luck so far, so added talent should help sustain current production.
If Hammel and Chen can stay on track then the pitching here is good enough to be more than respectable.
The Orioles have had a lot of support from their offense — they have scored the fourth most runs in the American League. They aren’t the best offensive team in baseball, but they are legitimately a Top 10 squad, and that seems sustainable.
Adam Jones is arguably having the best season in the American League by any guy not named Josh Hamilton, and he has a nice new contract to show for it. They have fought against injuries, but as they get healthier they will have nice depth to rely on as well.
The AL East is a huge hitting division, but the O’s have the bats to remain competitive.
I’ve been quite positive up to this point, but despite that I’m not particularly optimistic that this is a serious playoff contender. The toughness of their division, and that the fact that the Yankees and Red Sox are sleeping giants that will only get better is a big concern.
Even more of an issue than that, though, is that the team has been lucky in one-run games. They are 8-4 in those games, and one of those losses came in their last game. That’s a very high rate of success for any team, and not likely sustainable for a team as young and precocious as this one. If they start losing some of those games they are winning now things could come crashing back to earth in a hurry.
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