When you play baseball in the American League East, you know you’re going to be in for a dogfight every year. You know that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are going to be tough, and you know that Joe Maddon is going to have the Tampa Bay Rays right in the thick of things down to the wire.
This year, you can add in the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays went on a spending spree that would have made even Paris Hilton jealous, and they look primed to challenge for a division crown. But you don’t hear much about the Baltimore Orioles, and that’s probably just the way they like it.
If the rest of the division doesn’t watch out, the Orioles are going to improve on their 93-win, wild card season from a year ago, and walk away with an AL East championship in 2013.
Why would I write such a ridiculous thing?
Two reasons: Buck Showalter and depth.
If you scan up and down the Orioles roster, you don’t see a lot of recognizable household names, or many guys who you hear the talking heads on Baseball Tonight yelling about and creating new catch-phrases based off spectacular plays. But what you do see is depth.
You look at every position on the Orioles projected roster, and you see at least two–usually more–guys who could start or at least challenge to start on a lot of other teams in the league. It’s not a team of nobodies or castaways, but rather a collection of blue collar talent that just goes out and works hard to play fundamental baseball, each and every game.
That collection of talent is led by one of the most underrated managers in all of MLB, Buck Showalter.
There’s a stigma that comes with being a “failed” manager of the New York Yankees, and Showalter only compounded it by skippering some last place Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers squads. If ever there was a case of a manager being set up to fail, it was in those last two stops for Showalter.
But coming into Baltimore, Showalter was a breath of fresh air for a franchise that was ready to make a return to some of the brighter years.
In 2012, the Orioles finished 15th in runs scored, 20th in batting average, 23rd in on-base percentage, and 11th in slugging percentage in all of MLB–but yet they managed to win 93 games and managed to nearly out-duel the Yankees in the ALDS. Just imagine what they could have done if they hadn’t been learning to win for the better part of the season.
Showalter has endeared himself to the folks in Baltimore, and he’s changing the culture of the team with a no-nonsense grass roots approach. The Orioles aren’t trying to make the blockbuster deal, or lure in the biggest free agent. They just go out and play baseball like a team, and get the job done.
Here’s to the small markets and parity.
Watch out AL East, don’t sleep on the Orioles or you’ll wake up watching the playoffs from the couch.