BALTIMORE — There was a time when the Baltimore Orioles would have delighted to finish 85-77 and in contention for a playoff berth until the final week of the season.
In a testament to just how far the franchise has come under manager Buck Showalter, not playing baseball in October is no longer acceptable. After ending a run of 14 straight losing seasons in 2012 and extending the New York Yankees in the final game in the Divisional Series, the Orioles now measure themselves by a much higher standard.
“This isn’t a club that went into the season trying to be the wild card,” Showalter said. “We tried to win the division.”
Still, there were some positives to take into next year.
Even though they finished tied for third in the AL East, the Orioles achieved one of their objectives by proving last year was no fluke.
“We have to be proud of the fact that we gave ourselves a shot to be in the pennant race,” said center fielder Adam Jones, who batted .285 and set career highs with 33 homers and 108 RBIs. “We raised the bar here. We expect to be in the playoffs every year, and the fact that we’re disappointed that we’re not is a good sign.”
The Orioles hit more home runs than any other team, and Chris Davis had more home runs (53) and RBIs (138) than anyone in the majors. He sent a franchise record for homers in a season and was a landslide winner as the team MVP.
Davis’ breakthrough season, along with the development of third baseman Manny Machado and right-hander Chris Tillman, helped make missing the postseason more palatable.
“The emergence of some really good players like Davis and Machado, that was the most encouraging thing about this year,” said executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.
With Machado and Davis providing prowess at the corners of the infield and Jones and shortstop J.J. Hardy solidifying the middle of the diamond, Baltimore set a major league record with a .991 fielding percentage. The Orioles hit 24 more homers than second-place finisher Seattle, and Jim Johnson led the AL with 50 saves.
Plenty good happened for the 2013 Orioles. It just didn’t add up to a playoff berth, in part because Baltimore yielded 202 home runs, lost 31 one-run games, went 8-7 in extra innings and had a sub-.500 record after July.
A year ago, the Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games, 16-2 in extra innings and 20-11 after July 31.
“Obviously last year, with the one run wins and the extra inning wins, that’s something that’s really tough to duplicate,” Davis said. “But I think we might be more of a complete team this year.”
In 2012, the Orioles surprised the rest of baseball and, to a degree, themselves. This year, there was the pressure of coming up with a proper encore.
“A lot of guys had some expectations this year. Last year we were just playing and having fun,” Davis said. “But it’s a positive thing to be in the mix.”
There’s more work to be done before the Orioles can take the next step, and perhaps get into the World Series for the first time since 1983.
“We have to scout better, we have to trade better, we have to play better, we have to coach better,” Duquette said. “We have to do all those things to have a championship team. My experience is the season identifies your strengths and weaknesses. “
The most obvious shortcoming was pitching. Johnson blew nine saves, the starting rotation was spotty beyond Tillman and Baltimore’s 4.20 ERA ranked 23rd among 30 teams. That is perhaps the main reason why the Orioles never had a winning streak longer than five games.
“We didn’t really get on a roll,” Johnson said. “It was the biggest difference. Just never got hot.”
Thus, the Orioles cleaned out their lockers Sunday instead of gearing up for another playoff run.
“It’s not what we expected the season to be like,” Johnson said. “We had expectations for ourselves that were justified. But it’s frustrating, too, because a lot of guys put in a lot of hard work and we didn’t get the results that we wanted.”