Why We Should Salute The Baltimore Orioles
A simple rule of sports is that when you get to the postseason, your flaws are going to be exposed. No team is perfect, so whomever wins the World Series will survive in spite of it. But things that could be covered up in the regular season come to light in the heat of postseason competition. It’s true in every sport and it’s what is finally doing in the Baltimore Orioles in this American League Championship Series.
The Orioles were the betting line favorites in their ALCS matchup with the Kansas City Royals and now trail 3-0 in games. All invocations of the 2004 Boston Red Sox aside, this series is over. Boston had its home fans to rally behind for Games 4 & 5 that year. Baltimore does not. Whether it’s this afternoon or tomorrow night, the good people of Kansas City (and I mean that compliment sincerely) are going to celebrate a pennant.
But in spite of public perception, in spite of the pre-series betting lines, and in spite of Baltimore’s 96 regular season wins, the second-most in major league baseball, this Oriole team should be perceived as an underdog. The injuries and suspensions have simply taken too big a toll on this lineup and it’s finally coming home to roost.
It’s been so long since catcher Matt Wieters was injured that it’s barely registered in the public consciousness anymore, but Wieters is a significantly better hitter than either Nick Hundley or Caleb Joseph. To say injured third baseman Manny Machado is a better hitter than Ryan Flaherty is like saying Eddie Murray could hit better than I could. And while Flaherty is a good defender, Machado is an extraordinary defender.
Then there’s Chris Davis. The first baseman was having a bad year at the plate as it was, though he still hit 22 home runs and drew a lot of walks. He was suspended for PED use. I realize this is not a “bad break” in the sense that Davis has no one to blame but himself. But it is a bad break for his teammates and manager (to say nothing of the fan base) who were not at fault.
Officially, Steve Pearce replaced Davis at first base, but in practice, Pearce was already in the lineup in left field. In reality, the replacement is Alejandro de Aza, a nice leftfielder, but no Chris Davis—even Davis on a bad year.
To sum it up—the Baltimore lineup lost Wieters, Machado and Davis, and replaced with a Hundley/Joseph platoon, Ryan Flaherty and Alejandro de Aza.
Buck Showalter is one of the top two managers in baseball (rivaled only by Cleveland’s Terry Francona) and over the long season, his managerial skill, along with the real effort put forth by the substitutes who had to take on outsized roles, were able to cover up the huge production loss that injuries/bad years took.
But now it’s the postseason, we’re down to the last four teams left in baseball and the loss of the Wieters/Machado/Davis trio is being felt. We’ve had three straight games where one significant hit could have the Orioles being the team ahead 3-0 in games. By comparison, the Royals have everyone healthy.
Are you telling me that if Kansas City lost Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Norichika Aoki, while Baltimore had its three players available, that this series would still be the same? No sane person really believes that.
This should take nothing away from an achievement that the long-suffering Royals fans have been craving. Injuries are a part of sports. They’ve been deciding championships forever and will continue to do so. What I write here is not about demeaning KC—they’ve had a year where everything has come together at the right time and they’re taking advantage of it—but about making sure that Baltimore’s season is kept in proper perspective.
If anyone is asking what’s wrong with the Orioles in this ALCS, they should change the question. They should look at the huge talent loss that’s been, for the most part, there all season long. They should note the 96-66 record, and the victory over the Detroit Tigers in the Division Series.
The question should be how on earth this Oriole team achieved all that they did. And to salute the manager and the role players who stepped up and made it possible. If public perception was different prior to the ALCS, then it’s that perception which was misguided, not the play of this team.