This season, there's a team in baseball that has five consecutive batters in its lineup who, among them, will average 107 RBI and 28 homers per man.
Also, the first five hitters in this lineup will all score 100 or more runs.
Who are these murderers in a row?
For starters, this team has a leadoff man who will score 120 runs and steal 25 bases. Behind him is a No. 2 hitter who'll score 110 runs, have 51 doubles and 19 homers and drive in 98 runs. The next four hitters in this lineup get even better.
The No. 3 batter will score 117 runs, hit 45 doubles and 27 homers, drive in 104 runs and bat .303. The switch-hitting cleanup man figures to finish the season with 116 runs, 32 homers, 108 RBI and a .297 average.
This team's star may be its fifth hitter--the left fielder--who is on a pace to end the season with 100 runs, 34 homers and 120 RBI.
In fact, this powerhouse ball club, which leads the major leagues in scoring and which is ahead of the franchise's all-time run-scoring pace, even has a great No. 6 hitter: that fellow figures to contribute 32 doubles, 26 homers, 104 RBI and 110 walks.
Which club, you may ask, possesses these statistics worthy of such heralded lineups of recent years as The Big Red Machine of Cincinnati, The Over-The-Wall Gang of Boston or Milwaukee's The Big Blue Brew Crew?
The answer is: the 1983 Baltimore Orioles.
If the bottom third of their order weren't a three-man basket case, the Orioles might be one of the best offensive machines in decades.
When the Orioles are told these statistics, quizzical expressions invariably come over their faces.
"Sure you've got all that figured out right?" says Jim Palmer.
"That's a little hard to believe," says Ken Singleton.
Even the Orioles don't know what they've got.
The reasons are simple. The Orioles have gotten fabulous offensive production from their outfield this season, but few have noticed it because Baltimore platoons at all three positions.
In addition, the Orioles also platoon at catcher and shuffle players at second and third base. Only Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray and Singleton are established star names. It's easy to overlook this team's muscle.
If Cecil Cooper drives in 120 runs, he's an MVP candidate. If left fielders Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein have 120 RBI (and they have 100 RBI in 536 at bats so far this year), they're patted on the head patronizingly.
If any one player scored 110 runs, drove in almost 100 and had 51 doubles and 19 homers while batting .285, he'd be hailed as a superstar. Yet that's exactly the production Baltimore has gotten from its unheralded right field platoon of Dan Ford and Jim Dwyer.
If a swift center field leadoff man had 29 doubles, 10 homers, 120 runs scored and 25 steals, he would be considered a strength, even if he hit only .265 and didn't walk enough. Those are the numbers Al Bumbry and John Shelby are headed for after 137 games, yet they must constantly hear themselves denigrated as a team weakness.
Even the established Singleton is having a better season than it seems because he's been injured or benched enough so that Benny Ayala has gotten almost 100 at bats. To find out the Orioles' true production from the designated hitter spot, you have to add Ayala's stats to Singleton's. Then you have a player with a fabulous on-base percentage as well as 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI.
Year after year, baseball seems incapable of appreciating sufficiently that the sport should be measured in production per plate appearance. Players such as Murray, Ripken and Cooper, who are durable and versatile enough to hit both right- and left-handed pitching, will always get most of the accolades. That's fair.
But baseball is also a game that rewards the work of players such as Dwyer, Lowenstein and Joe Nolan who, in 200 to 350 properly selected at bats a season, can sometimes perform as well as all-stars.
By combining stats for each position, it is also obvious where the Orioles need to improve.
Third basemen Todd Cruz, Leo Hernandez, Aurelio Rodriguez and Glenn Gulliver figure to produce only 11 homers and drive in 64 runs this year--not terrible, but below average for a power spot. Perhaps Cruz and Gulliver will prove to be the platoon of the future at this spot.
Catchers Rick Dempsey and Nolan have been adequate at bat--they project to 30 doubles, 8 homers, 53 RBI, 58 walks and a .254 average. Past performance, however, says they could do better.
Second basemen Rich Dauer and Lenn Sakata have been the least productive tandem. They project to a .231 average, 58 RBI and 60 walks.
Considering the abundant number of runners on base that the Orioles' 7-8-9 batters have seen when they came up, they probably don't have enough RBI.
In deriving the stats in this story, every player on the Orioles has been put at his basic position, even though many players have been used at various spots.
For instance, consider Shelby and Bumbry as the center fielder, even though Bumbry's played left and Roenicke has played center. Consider Ford, Dwyer and Mike Young as the right fielder, even though Dwyer has played first and Young left. And so forth. Let's not pick nits, like Sakata having hit a homer as a catcher. The gist remains the same.
To understand how Baltimore can have the best runs-per-game average (.496) in baseball, not to mention the best won-lost record, we must look its platoon power in the eye. Perhaps the Orioles are not some mysterious collection who, as we so often say, "are more than the sum of their parts."
Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say the Orioles' parts are just better than we've suspected.