The Orioles concluded their 2013 season Sept. 29, a solid yet unspectacular year during which they posted their second straight winning record (85-77), but missed the playoffs. Let's take a final look back at what went right and what went wrong for the 2013 Orioles.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Flashing The Leather
Have you ever seen a less error-prone defense than the 2013 Orioles?
That's not a rhetorical question. The answer is: No, you haven't.
The Orioles made history with their defensive prowess this season, committing the fewest single-season errors (54) of all time. They also shattered a previous major league record by playing 119 errorless games.
The Birds were stellar with the leather from start to finish, grading out as top-notch defenders by traditional and advanced defensive metrics alike. Nearly every fielder on the diamond ranked above average, and some -- I'm looking at you, Manny Machado -- displayed a near-unprecedented level of defensive excellence.
The Orioles' pitchers tended to allow balls to be put in play (ranking 26th in the majors in strikeouts), making it important to have a high-caliber defense behind them that excelled at turning possible base hits into outs.
Manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made a concerted effort to build a strong team defense, and the results of their efforts were apparent in 2013. Whenever a ball was hit in the vicinity of an Orioles fielder, fans could feel confident the O's would add an out to the scoreboard.
Hitting Home Runs
Boy, did the Orioles hit home runs.
They led the major leagues in homers. And it wasn't close.
The O's crushed 212 home runs, 24 more than any other team in baseball. In fact, the gap between the Orioles and the No. 2 team was the same as the gap between the No. 2 team and the No. 12 team.
The O's hit more home runs than the Giants and Marlins combined.
The Orioles averaged one home run every 26.5 at bats, best in the major leagues.
The Birds had eight batters who reached double digits in home runs, four of whom hit at least 20.
You get the idea. If you're a fan of the long ball, there was no better team to watch in 2013 than the Orioles. Led by first baseman Chris Davis' 53-homer season, the Birds put on a round-tripper parade.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Being Impatient On Offense
The Orioles were a prolific home run-hitting team, but they sometimes became too dependent on the long ball to score runs, particularly when the offense went cold down the stretch. When the O's weren't hitting the ball out of the park, they were struggling to get on base, ranking 10th in the American League in on-base percentage (.313).
Part of the problem was the Orioles were one of MLB's worst teams at drawing walks, ranking 28th out of the 30 teams with 416 free passes, ahead of the White Sox and Brewers. The top 11 teams in walks -- including all five AL playoff teams -- each had at least 103 more walks than the Orioles.
Although the O's still had a good offense overall, scoring the fifth-most runs in the majors, their failure to have more patient at bats might have contributed to their September slump. At one point during the season's final month, the Orioles went 21 straight games without scoring more than five runs as they slipped out of playoff contention.
Pitching, Pitching, Pitching
Even as the O's have emerged from their 14-year streak of losing seasons and posted back-to-back winning years, they've still struggled to find a recipe for a successful pitching staff.
The 2013 starting rotation was an ever-changing mishmash of struggling veterans, washed-up retreads and not-ready-for-prime-time youngsters. Only breakout starter Chris Tillman made it through the season taking every turn in the rotation. The rest of the rotation was plagued with injuries and ineffectiveness, leaving the Birds' starting staff in dire straits for much of the year.
The Birds cycled through 14 different starting pitchers during the season, forced to dip so far into the well that they gave 10 starts to a past-his-prime Freddy Garcia and summoned unseasoned rookie Kevin Gausman less than a year after drafting him.
The Orioles' bullpen, which was an important component of their sensational 2012 season, took a step backward as well. The Birds' relief ERA rose to 3.52 after a 3.00 mark the year before, and their blown save total rose to 27 from 18. The bullpen slippage played a large role in the fact that the 2013 Orioles went 20-31 during one-run games as opposed to 29-9 the year before.
All told, the O's ranked 23rd in the majors with a 4.20 team ERA. The 10 playoff teams all ranked in the top 15, indicating that the Orioles will need to get their pitching in order if they want to return to the postseason hunt next year.
Most Valuable Oriole
Some years, selecting the Most Valuable Oriole isn't an easy task. Some years.
But in 2013, there's not much debate. Davis ran away with the title after his breakout season, during which he was one of baseball's most prolific sluggers.
Davis lapped the competition by crushing a league-leading 53 home runs, nine more than the next-closest challenger, setting an Orioles single-season record in the process. Davis nudged out Detroit's Miguel Cabrera for the major league RBI title with 138, and his .634 slugging percentage and 1.004 OPS ranked second in the majors to Cabrera. Through it all, Davis played solid defense during his first year as the Orioles' everyday first baseman.
Honorable mention: Even as Davis bashed 37 home runs before the All-Star break, you could argue that he wasn't the Birds' most valuable player during the first half. That's because Machado had a spectacular season of his own.
At third base, Machado put up one of the most elite defensive performances in baseball history, ranking off the charts in advanced defensive metrics such as Ultimate Zone Rating and defensive Wins Above Replacement. The stats line up with what Orioles fans saw all year long as Machado made one highlight-worthy play after another.
All the while, Machado's offense developed quicker than expected during his first full year in the majors, as he ripped an AL-leading 51 doubles. Though Machado's hitting tailed off during the second half, his defense remained stellar throughout. Assuming the season-ending knee injury he suffered Sept. 23 doesn't linger into 2014 and beyond, Machado has a sky-high future ahead of him.
Least Valuable Oriole
The Orioles' failure to reach the postseason in 2013 can't be laid at the feet of one or two players -- baseball is a team game, after all -- but the season-long struggles of a few of the longest-tenured Birds didn't help matters.
Closer Jim Johnson became a popular target for blame among some Orioles fans because of his all-too-frequent ninth-inning blowups, which led to an MLB-leading nine blown saves. Some of the heat put on Johnson was undeserved -- he did salvage an 85 percent save percentage, racking up 50 saves (which led the AL) after having 51 in 2012 -- but his costly blown saves took the air out of the Orioles' sails during the summer months.
Mostly because of Johnson's struggles, the O's lost nine games they led after eight innings -- and the major league average was 3.5. Had Johnson turned four or five of his blown saves into successful conversions, the Birds' season might have turned out differently.
On the offensive side, right fielder Nick Markakis sputtered, putting up the worst numbers of his career. Markakis -- who hadn't posted a slugging percentage lower than .400 during any of his previous seven seasons -- slugged .356 with 34 extra-base hits in 700 plate appearances. His 10 home runs were also a career low. Markakis' vanishing power was a season-long drag on the lineup, especially because he played all but two games. Markakis' hitting blackout was surprising considering that he's 29 years old, an age when many players are in their prime.
Honorable mention: Another homegrown Oriole, Matt Wieters, took a step backward in 2013. Although his defense remained Gold Glove-caliber, he regressed offensively, dropping to a .704 OPS (two years removed from a career-best .778 mark). Wieters was one of the primary culprits in the Orioles' on-base struggles, posting a career-worst .287 OBP.
It remains to be seen whether the Orioles will be active in the free-agent and trade markets during the offseason. But if they want to return to the playoffs in 2014, they'll need members of their homegrown nucleus -- including Johnson, Markakis and Wieters -- to bounce back.