What else can baseball fans do in January but dream of October? In You May Say I’m a Dreamer, the Outside Corner staff will imagine the route to a World Series in 2012 title for all 30 teams.
Out of all of the teams that could win the 2012 World Series, is there more of a longshot than the Baltimore Orioles? The O’s play in the ridiculous tough AL East, are plagued by a brand new general manager who seems to have a mindset that’s stuck in the mid-90s, and have a farm system that is devoid of impact talent at the upper levels. But yet, here we are in November….and the Baltimore Orioles are the World Champions. What the hell is going on here?
While the Orioles aren’t the most talented team in the game, they’ve still got some talented players. One of those talented players is Matt Wieters, whose 2012 season channeled Mike Piazza. Wieters hit 37 homers, had a .968 OPS for the season, and threw out 64% of all opposing baserunners. It was one of the best seasons for a catcher ever, and it happened by an Oriole. I wouldn’t believe it if you told me. Shortstop JJ Hardy is another one of those really good players, a veteran of multiple teams on a squad whose best players have been limited to Baltimore. Hardy hit 31 homers and had a .886 OPS for the season, ranking as the best hitting shortstop in baseball. Gee, it’s been awhile since that’s happened for the Orioles.
A pair of largely disappointing outfielders also contributed for the Orioles. Center fielder Adam Jones teamed with right fielder Nick Markakis to give the Orioles a dynamic punch in both the lineup and the field. Both players won Gold Glove awards. Jones hit 23 homers, and Markakis hit 26. The duo finally tapping some of their potential helped the team make the leap to the next level of contention. It’s also worth noting that by shifting former third baseman Mark Reynolds across the diamond, the effects of his awful defense on the Orioles was severely negated, and he managed a 3.0 fWAR season while hitting 34 homers (and also striking out 215 times, but that’s beside the point).
Even after trading ace Jeremy Guthrie in the offseason, Baltimore’s rotation was picked up by a pair of young hurlers: Zach Britton, and Brian Matusz. Britton improved on his 2011 rookie campaign, throwing 190 innings of 3.97 ERA ball. Britton’s biggest talent was getting groundballs, posting a 57% groundball rate on the season. As for Matusz, he finally was back at full strength in 2012 after a shaky 2011 campaign. After posting a 10.69 ERA in 2011, Matusz lowered that mark by close to 70%, posting an ERA of 3.29 in 185 innings. Matusz’s retribution gave Orioles fans a reason to exhale. The rest of Baltimore’s rotation was largely filler, but Jason Hammel performed better than expected after coming over from the Rockies in the offseason, posting a 4.12 ERA.
The Orioles got to where they were through a lot of luck and excellent fortune. The team was 44-12 in one-run games, a testament to a bend, not break strategy that was preached by manager Buck Showalter for most of the season. Despite only having a +59 run differential, Baltimore won 91 games and the AL Wild Card. They knocked off the heavily favored Angels in the ALCS, and got vengeance for the Jeffrey Maier incident by polishing off the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS. Finally, in the World Series, the Orioles won a thrilling six game series against the Phillies to give the franchise their first World Championship since 1983.
This was a long time coming for the Orioles, and their fans are absolutely giddy right now. The only bad thing is that their success doesn’t look sustainable, and there could be a substantial step back in 2013.