Baltimore Orioles players celebrate their victory over the Boston Red Sox in a baseball game at Fenway Park on Thursday, June 16, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
The Baltimore Orioles entered Father’s Day in first place in the American League East division with a 39-28 record. Wins over the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays this past week have helped Baltimore keep that lead in the AL East, especially considering how both Boston and Toronto trail the Orioles by just one game for the lead.
It’s a pleasant yet surprising Father’s Day gift for any avid Orioles fan who happens to be a dad. It’s safe to say, if you had told any baseball fan back in March that the O’s would still be leading the AL East nearly three months into the season, they would’ve either laughed you out or tested you for drugs.
Sure, the Orioles have lived up to some of the not-so-lofty expectations set for them this offseason. They’re collectively one of the worst defensive teams in the Major leagues, as expected. They have one of the most inconsistent starting pitcher rotation staffs, also as expected. But there’s also a couple of positive expectations about this team that Baltimore has not only lived up to, but perhaps exceeded, giving explanation to their mystical dominance over their division so far.
Baltimore Orioles’ Adam Jones hits an RBI double in the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on Thursday, June 16, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
For starters, the Orioles were expected to be explosive on offense. After re-signing home run king Chris Davis to a $161 million contract extension this spring, fans knew they would be watching him smack a ton of homers into the stands, even if it was anticipated to come in losing fashion. What fans perhaps didn’t anticipate was that power batter Mark Trumbo (signed to the team not long before Davis was re-signed) would be the one leading the league in home runs, not Davis. Trumbo has a league-high 20 home runs, but even better, two of his lineup mates in Manny Machado (17) and Davis (16) share a spot within the top 10 most home runs in the American League. Add 13 more homers by Adam Jones and that’s a combined 66 home runs from just four players in the Orioles’ batting lineup. That kind of power hitting has helped Baltimore come out on top with wins in a lot of close games this season. That was evident on June 16 when Jones hit a homer that catapulted the Orioles to a 5-1 win over the Red Sox, sealing the three-game series victory for Baltimore.
The Orioles have also adopted a style of baseball that anyone who watched the Kansas City Royals win the World Series last season would notice: clutch pitching out of the bullpen. When your starting pitchers aren’t consistent, you better be able to hide them with a strong bullpen. That’s what the Royals did better than anyone in 2015-’16, and now Baltimore is doing the same thing with relief pitchers like Brad Brach, Mychal Givens and closer Zach Britton. This trio has an earned run average (ERA) of less than two runs per game. They essentially shut down opposing offenses late in games, setting up the Orioles’ clutch hitters to make winning hits during the final innings. Fans saw this in action in the Orioles’ latest win, a 4-2 victory over Toronto on June 18. Givens entered the game in the sixth inning and pitched two full innings without giving up more than a single hit with zero runs before he was then relieved by Brach, who pitched the full eighth inning perfectly with no hits or runs allowed. Britton then closed out the ninth inning for his 21st save of the season, the most in the AL so far.
Fans and baseball experts expected Britton to do his job closing; he’s done it well in the past. But now he has quality relievers in front of him to make his job easier, something that wasn’t predicted in the spring. Now fans are hoping to be surprised to see Baltimore continue its winning ways throughout the remainder of this long season.