Embattled and embittered Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said last week that the Baltimore Orioles are lucky, and, really, who can dispute it, despite it being impossible to cite even one bolt of lucky lightning striking this season to suddenly transform the Orioles from the AL East team destined to lose 100 games into the team that was one game out of first place on Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 4.
That hasn’t happened; just hasn’t been the case. Harry Frazee didn’t sell Babe Ruth back to Baltimore, manager Buck Showalter didn’t happen across a magic lamp on the beaches of Sarasota during spring training and, certainly, Peter Angelos is still the owner of the club. Still, over the course of a 162-game season, any team that finds itself in contention the first week of September has to have experienced some elements of good luck. It’s just difficult to pinpoint what they could have been this season for the Orioles.
In presenting his Lucky Birds thesis, Valentine, while admitting the Orioles have an outstanding bullpen, cites their season run differential (minus-31 as of Tuesday), as well as their 24-7 record in one-run games, which, at its current pace, would be the best one-run record in major league history.
Valentine is spot on, sort of. The Orioles do have one of the best bullpens in the game, and a minus-31 run differential at this stage of the season has rarely belonged to a winning team, much less a team 16 games over .500 and one game out of first place. However, keep in mind, the reason the Orioles’ success had been so mind-boggling, even to those who follow them every day, was their horrible defense through the first 111 games.
Up to that point, the Orioles were keystone cops defensively, but since inserting rookie Manny Machado at third base and former All-Star Nate McLouth in left field, the club’s suddenly airtight defense has been the biggest reason for their current 15-8 run (from 60-51 to 75-59). Not only that, the run-differential in that time has gone from the upper minus-40s to minus-31, nearly a 20-run drop-off in just 23 games.
Again, it can be said the Orioles have been as lucky as anybody can be during a season, but they’ve hardly been draped in it. After all, look at the extended time they’ve lost to injuries this season: Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Brian Roberts, Troy Patton and Jason Hammel. The Opening Day starting rotation was Jake Arietta, Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz. Only Chen has remained every day, as Hammel has been injured and Arietta, Hunter, Matusz and Zach Britton have spent much of the season in Triple-A Norfolk because of ineffectiveness.
Where they might be lucky is all of those pitchers are now back on the roster, and, with what appear to be key Dan (Aykroyd) Duquette in-season additions, such as Joe Saunders, Randy Wolf, Miguel Gonzalez et al, the Orioles suddenly find themselves stocked with arms for the September stretch, particularly if Chris Tillman’s elbow is not injured (MRI Tuesday).
How this all plays out remains anybody’s guess, just as it has for much of the season. And in fairness to some of what Valentine says, the Orioles offense remains far from opportunistic, still very prone to leaving big innings stranded on the bases, which cost them Saturday in New York, and, against any lineup other than Toronto’s, could have cost them on Monday. Oddly enough, though, at no time this season have the Orioles been better suited to go on an extended tear than they are right now.
There is actually one area in which the Orioles have been enormously lucky, and Valentine understands it better and more clearly than anybody this side of Boston. For you see, it was Valentine, two years ago last June, who took his name out of consideration for the Orioles managing job, passing on Baltimore for what he deemed to be a better opportunity, which, a year later, ended up being the dysfunctional Red Sox.
How’s that been working out? The Orioles’ Buck Showalter looks to be a very strong candidate for Manager of the Year, while Valentine looks to be a very strong candidate to be fired at any time.
Thus, if anybody would have good cause to believe that the Orioles are lucky, not to mention be living proof that the Orioles are lucky, it would be Bobby Valentine.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org