The 2012 season, like many before it, had its share of surprises. The Oakland A's winning the AL West, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera winning the first triple crown in 45 years. Each had its own appeal, its own ability to pull you in and ask; why, how, is this even possible? Amidst these stories the Orioles marched along and, in an effort only appreciated when it is over, led the league with an unprecedented 29-9 record in one run games. That .763 winning percentage is the highest ever over a season. On the strength of that record, the Orioles snatched a wild card berth and made it to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years.
Setting an analysis on one factor also overlooked so many positives that should have indicated the Orioles were not going to fade away so easily. There is the Buck Showalter effect --he finished in the top 5 Managers of the Year voting in the second full season at every stop, four teams and counting. There was also the emergence of Chris Davis who, at 26, produced a .270/.326/.501 slash line with 33 home runs in his first season with over 500 plate appearances. Many players achieve their power peak somewhere between 26-28, somehow an emerging star was overlooked by the majority of pundits. With 28 home runs already this season, it is safe to say he will not be sneaking up on anyone going forward.
Perhaps the most telling factor for continued effect was the defensive core that was formed after the 2012 trade deadline when Manny Machado was called up and Nate McLouth was acquired. Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters all received gold gloves for their defense last year. When the entire middle of a defense (CF, SS, C respectively) earns gold gloves in a season that team's defense is top notch. That does not include McLouth, a former gold glove winner in left, or former recipient Nick Markakis in right. Machado moved from shortstop to third to accommodate Hardy and has showcased the skill, range, and arm to win multiple gold gloves at third or short over his career. McLouth, 31, and Hardy, 30, are the only regular everyday players over 30. With only 25 errors and a .992 fielding percentage the Orioles lead all of baseball at their halfway point.
This is not to say that the Orioles should have been locks to win the AL East or are without faults.I have not mentioned starting pitching for a reason; they are lacking a clear ace, similar to last season.
As great as the bullpen was last season, it is almost impossible to expect a bullpen to repeat as successful a season as 2012 was. Indeed Jim Johnson has blown 5 saves this season after saving 51 games last year.
I have not even mentioned the offense, aside from Davis, but given the relative youth most players had room to grow and improve. I am not sure if anyone foresaw Machado threatening the single season doubles record. That is its own story, a story that we should appreciate today, but wait to reflect upon once the season is over. Pundits overlooked the Orioles based on an impressive statistical anomaly. They refused to look deeper and really see this Orioles squad for what it is: young, hungry, driven, and led by one of the best managers in the game today. They are young enough to not accept limitations or conventional norms. It is time to look beyond the pundits mirage. The Orioles are more than a 1-run record and have been since Machado and McLouth joined the team. At 45-36, they are once again in position for at least a wild card birth, which is not as shocking as you might think.