Of the four teams that began the weekend alive for the 2014 World Series championship, the Baltimore Orioles are the one that seemed most likely to still be breathing.
The long season of 162 games is supposed to separate the contenders from the pretenders, but this year proved little since most of the biggest winners dropped like ten pins in a Pro Bowlers match once the post-season began.
The Orioles have been down for so long that finding themselves in the favorite’s role against the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series must seem baffling. For the moment, the Royals seem like Destiny’s Darlings since they hadn’t even made it to the post-season since 1985 and nobody thought they would last this long if they did pull it off this year.
Long time coming
It has been longer for the Orioles since they reached the Series. KC won it all in 1985. Baltimore won it all in 1983. Baltimore has experienced many lean years since, but at least the team has been on the rise of late and their stranglehold on the AL East this season was not particularly a surprise.
Manager Buck Showalter, who has more or less undergone a personality makeover from grumpy guy to charming guy the way George Foreman did, is at the helm and everyone in the sport believes he is one of those field bosses who knows what he is doing.
Still, the 96-game winners got where they are this year not only being handled by Cool Hand Buck, but because they smacked the living daylights out of the ball more than any other team in baseball. The O’s led the majors in home runs with 211, proponents of the chicks dig the long ball theory.
Couple that with sound pitching and no choking in the early rounds of the playoffs, and voila, the Orioles are still in the hunt. Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, who is the latest Mr. October, led the majors with 40 home runs and drove in 108 runs. Outfielder Adam Jones, who can run and field, too, had 29 homers and 96 RBIs. Seven players hit double figures worth of homers. Contrast that with the Royals, who had 95 total, the least in the majors.
Others waiting on the sidelines
The most intriguing situation looming on the horizon as the Orioles play on is what to do with Chris Davis once he has completed his Major League sit-in-the-corner suspension for failing a drug test. Davis led the league with 53 homers and 138 RBIs last year, but had difficulty putting bat on ball with such regularity this year. He was sitting on 26 and 72, not disgraceful, but accompanied by a .196 average (very much disgraceful) when he was nabbed and forcibly sat down for 25 games. The penalty began starting Sept. 12 for his using adderall, a medication he did not have permission to use in 2014.
Davis has been fine-tuning his batting stroke in the Fall Instructional League, but wouldn’t become eligible to play until the sixth game (if needed) of the ALCS, so the Orioles are leaving him off the roster. That’s an easy call.
If Baltimore advances to the Series, Davis would no longer be banned, but Showalter would have to decide if adding Davis to the roster and deleting someone else would disrupt team chemistry, so to speak. Tricky situation.
Wei-Yin-Chen (16 wins), Bud Norris (15) and Chris Tillman (13) anchor the Orioles’ pitching rotation, although the way the modern game is played sometimes you wonder if they are just keeping the pitching rubber warm for bullpen guys Tommy Hunter (11 saves, 2.97 earned run average), Darren O’Day (5-2, 1.70), and closer Zach Britton (37 saves, 1.65).
It’s too soon to say whether the current batch of Orioles in the long run will be remembered fondly alongside Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Cal Ripken, Jr., but if they do manage to win the World Series they will never have to pay for crab cakes in their town again.