‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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After 137 games, the New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles are even atop the American League East with 77-60 records. A quick glance at team statistics will show you that the Yankees are the statistically-superior roster.
The Orioles are defying logic and statistics. Their ability to grind out victories in late innings is nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Just when the Yankees thought their five-run, eighth-inning rally would propel them toward a momentous victory on Thursday, the Orioles delivered a hammer blow to the Bombers’ psyche.
Baltimore blitzed the Yankees’ bullpen for three home runs in the bottom of the eighth as they rode to a stunning 10-6 victory.
At the start of the 2012 season, nobody expected the Baltimore Orioles to be anywhere near the top of the AL East standings in September. The Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox were expected to have a stranglehold on the AL East, with the second and third place teams fighting for places in the newly-introduced double Wild Card format.
No one gave the Orioles a chance. Even the Toronto Blue Jays were being picked by some as dark horse candidates to make a run at the second Wild Card. There wasn’t a whisper about the Orioles, because there wasn’t any evidence that suggested Baltimore would suddenly surge to the top of the AL East.
In Buck Showalter’s first full season as Orioles manager, the 2011 Orioles finished last in the AL East at 69-93. At best, the Orioles were expected to be a long-term project.
Then again, that’s what many thought when Showalter took charge of the Yankees in 1992. Showalter took over a Yankees roster described as listless — the club finished the 1991 season with a 71-91 mark.
Two years later, Showalter had the Yankees en route to clinching the AL East in 1994. Had the postseason not been cancelled that year, the Yankees would have had a terrific shot at making the World Series.
In 1995, Showalter secured the Yankees’ first playoff berth since 1981. Had he not been pushed out the door by George Steinbrenner, it could have been Showalter and not Joe Torre who presided over the Yankees’ subsequent dynasty.
In Arizona, Showalter did the same thing for the expansion Diamondbacks that he had for the Yankees. Bob Brenly replaced Showalter and took the 2001 Diamondbacks to the World Series, where they defeated the Yankees in a seven-game classic.
It’s fair to say that Buck has the magic touch in molding unexpected teams into winners.
Baltimore’s Inexplicable Success
The Orioles are 17th in the Majors in with 595 runs scored, while the Yankees are one of the best run-producing teams in all of baseball with 654 runs scored.
A common criticism of the Yankees is that they can’t manufacture runs, but the Orioles aren’t exactly fleet-footed on the basepaths. In fact, the Orioles are the slowest team in the Major Leagues with just 44 stolen bases.
While the Yankees’ 2012 team on-base percentage of .332 is a significant drop-off from 2011, it’s still the fifth-best mark in the MLB. Baltimore’s OBP of .311 ranks toward the bottom of baseball at 23rd overall.
The Yankees are by far the most powerful lineup in the Majors. They have 204 home runs, 28 more than the Orioles who rank second statistically.
Outside of Jim Johnson, Orioles pitchers aren’t flamethrowers. They’ve only struck out 983 batters, which ranks 21st overall. The Yankees, meanwhile, are sixth-best in the Majors with 1,102 strikeouts.
Baltimore’s combined team ERA of 4.01 is 12 points worse than the Yankees’.
So What Exactly Makes The Orioles Great?
The Orioles’ strength is in their bullpen. They do not give away games. Baltimore is 61-0 when leading after seven innings, and the Orioles’ bullpen arms have a combined record of 24-10.
Baltimore is dominating the AL East with a divisional record of 31-22. The Yankees, meanwhile, are barely above .500 in divisional play at 27-26.
While the Orioles only lead head-to-head matchups with the Yankees by a single game, they’ve clearly been the dominant club. When the two teams have met this season, Baltimore has hit 42 points higher than the Bombers and has scored 14 more runs.
The Orioles also have a lot of youth on their side. This gives credence to the notion that the Bombers are too reliant on veterans. All season long, injuries have ravaged the aging Yankees.
The average Yankee is 31 years old, while the average Oriole is just 28.
The Orioles are finally hitting their prime as a ballclub, and they have a savvy, exceptionally-prepared manager who knows how to get the most out of young players.
There’s a reason why the Orioles are 24-7 in one-run games and 12-2 in extra-inning games.
It’s Showalter’s magic touch.
Will Showalter keep the Orioles’ run going and lead them past the Yankees when it’s all said and done? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.