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The Early Lead
Posted at 01:38 PM ET, 09/05/2012

First-place Baltimore Orioles playing like it’s 1997


Steve Tolleson (left), Manny Machado (center), Wilson Betemit and the O’s are back in first place for the first time in 15 years. (Mark Blinch - Reuters)
It’s Sept. 5 and the Baltimore Orioles are tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the American League East.

That statement may defy logic, statistics and most forms of baseball prognostication, but it’s true as can be.

The O’s (76-59) are in first for the first time since September 1997, and for those who cite their paltry offensive prowess, Mark Reynolds and company would like to direct your attention to exhibit A: Tuesday night’s 12-0 shellacking of the Toronto Blue Jays.

The win erased the 10-game division lead New York held on July 18 and added fuel to what should be a wild final month of the season in the American League, where the top five teams in the wild-card race are separated by all of four games.

“It’s a big deal obviously, but there are a lot of games left,” said Reynolds, who went 3 for 4 with a three-run homer. “Us and the Yankees and the Rays are all right there. We can’t take anything for granted.”

But as the Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck points out, if Baltimore’s record matched it’s statistics, the O’s wouldn’t even be in that conversation — they would be at least 10 games under .500.

Just the facts: The Orioles are ranked 21st in the major leagues with a .247 team batting average. They rank 21st in hits, 17th in runs and their scoring differential (-19) is the only one with a negative sign in front of it of any team with a winning record. The pitching staff is a little higher up the rankings, but still ranks 16th in ERA and has allowed more runs than all but 10 other teams. And, of course, they rank last in the American League in fielding percentage.

Fortunately for Baltimore and its long-deprived fans, this team is a heck of a lot better than the stats indicate.


Don’t ask him how, but Buck Showalter has brought the magic back to Camden Yards. (Jonathan Newton - WASHINGTON POST)
Much of the credit goes to grizzled manager Buck Showalter, 56, whose countless, yet shrewd, in-season roster moves keep paying off. Despite a revolving door starting rotation, the Orioles have won 24 of 31 games decided by one run and 21 of their last 29 overall.

“You’d think we’re having a bad season or something with all the moves,” rookie pitcher Steve Johnson told the Post’s Rick Maese when asked about Showalter’s 157 roster moves since opening day. “We’ve had a lot of moving parts all year, but guys know if you perform, they’re going to find a spot for you.”

The next week is critical for Baltimore’s postseason hopes as they host the Yankees for four games and then welcome the Rays — who are currently 1 1/2 games back — for a three-game set.

Like Washington Nationals skipper Davey Johnson, 69, Showalter is using lessons learned from his previous stops to spark success in a region where winning on the diamond has been fleeting. And as a result, the region has a rare reason to be excited about the prospect of Beltway baseball this October.

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By  |  01:38 PM ET, 09/05/2012

 
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