The Difference Between The 2005 And 2012 Orioles Teams
Two months ago, I couldn't see any possible scenario that involved the Orioles winning more than 66 games.
The Birds made no discernible moves that made the team better. At best, Dan Duquette, the team's new executive vice president of baseball operations, seemed perfectly fine with allowing the Birds to remain where they were, following the plan largely put in place by Andy MacPhail.
The Birds entered Sunday's series closer with the Nationals, beyond all expectations, at 27-14, two games ahead of their closest competition in the American League East. It is the furthest from .500 the team has been all season. The club has been on top of the AL East standings for 29 days, but has never broken out of more than a two-game lead in the division.
After Friday's win against the Nationals in 11 innings, the club moved to 6-2 in extra-inning games. It's fairly natural to ask the question that is on almost everyone's lips right now, "Why not?"
No one wants to rain on a parade, but the last time the Orioles were this successful this far into the season was 2005. The Birds had led the division for 31 days and were 26-15, a comparable record. They went on to hold first place for 62 days in total, relinquishing it in late June. Thanks to injuries -- particularly to All-Star Brian Roberts -- and an epic collapse, the Orioles finished 21 games out of first place and 74-88. Virtually none of the players on the 2005 Orioles roster are on a major league team now.
The difference between now and then, really, is in the dugout. The Orioles could certainly collapse, but it feels far more unlikely for a Buck Showalter-led team to do it. Lee Mazzilli, the Orioles' manager during the 2005 season, simply wasn't fit for the job, despite his Yankees coaching pedigree.
If the club were going to dip, as it has done during the last few years, it was going to do it in May, but the club has gone to a new level, rather than receding. Showalter is a smart in-game manager and has developed a strong relationship with his players that is built on honesty. The players can turn to Showalter and his staff with issues and Showalter, for the most part, has the right advice for them to get out of their minor slumps.
Showalter's Orioles teams have peaked in September, when AL East teams have plenty at stake. June and July suddenly could be the crux of this team's season. The Orioles have survived what should have been an absolute brutal stretch of games against tough opponents, even when a number of their players were on the disabled list.
The Orioles' success largely doesn't make sense on its face. This is a group of players used to losing, just like that 2005 club, which was on a serious roll after seven years of losing. This one, now seven years later, has thus far avoided an injury similar to Roberts' 2005 injury. For that to happen, Adam Jones or Matt Wieters would need to fall. Those two players mean as much to the roster as Roberts did and more.
If those players stay healthy and the pitching staff -- both the rotation and the bullpen -- continue to be stead, this is a club that could keep the question of "Why not?" going well into the summer once again.
Posted May 20, 2012