Tuesday, Rany Jazayerli wrote an article for Grantland wondering if the Orioles are finally a winner in 2012. He has his doubts and begins by listing the multiple "teases" the O's have given their fans in the 21st century. Most of those comparisions are not really teases, at least not like the ride the Birds have taken us on this year. Most of examples Jazayerli points out arejust hot Aprils or, even worse, a hot 12 game stretch to start the season. Others are years where the team has hovered around .500 until the end of June and then tanked during the dog days of summer. This season is a different story. The Orioles are 11 games over .500 on May 18th. There is only one season in recent memory that compares to this one: 2005.
In fact some of the similarities are kind of scary. Let's compare and contrast.The Same Record
On the morning of May 18th, 2005, the Orioles had just beaten the Royals in Kansas City and were in first place with a record of 25-13.
On the morning of May 18th, 2012, the Orioles have just beaten the Royals in Kansas City and are in first place with a record of 25-14.
But the similarities kind of end there. That 2005 club came out of the gates red-hot and went 16-7 in April. But by May 18th, they were just 9-6 for the month of May and would finish May with a 15-13 record. It would be their last winning month until May of 2007.
This year's version of the Orange & Black is a slightly different story as they went 14-9 in April (.609) and have imprived on that in May winning 11 of 16 (.687).Their Best Pitcher is a Lefty Named Chen
The morning of May 18th, 2005, a 28-year old lefty named Chen led the team with 4 wins, a 3.38 ERA with 30 strikeouts and 11 walks in 45 innings pitched.
On the morning of May 18th, 2012, a 26-year old lefty named Chen is tied for the lead in team wins with 4, has a 2.45 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 14 walks in 44 innings pitched.
Wei-Yin is pitching a bit better than Bruce up to this point but Bruce was indeed the best hurler for that 2005 club and Wei-Yin could well turn out to be the best starter on this one. Of course, Bruce did not have a Jason Hammel (2.68 ERA) on his team to help out...he had Erik Bedard (2.35 ERA on May 18th, 2005). But Bedard got hurt after his start on May 21st which coincided with Baltimore's June slide and by the time he started again in mid-July, it was far too late. Like that team, this team could also be undone by an injury to the wrong guy. They'll need to stay reasonably healthy to keep this up.They Have New Closers
Coming into 2005, 29-year old B.J. Ryan had little experience closing games with only 2 single inning saves in September 2004. In Spring Training, he won the job away from incumbent Jorge Julio and became one of baseball's top closers. By May 18th, he had racked up a (near) league-leading 11 saves with a dominant 1.64 ERA.*
Coming into 2012, 29-year old Jim Johnson had little experience closing games with only 7 single inning saves in September 2011. In Spring Training, he won the job away from incumbent Kevin Gregg and became one of baseball's top closers. By May 18th, he has a league-leading 14 saves with a dominant 0.48 ERA.
Ryan's season may have not helped the Orioles win but it did make him a very rich man by season's end when he jumped to the Blue Jays for a $47 million contract. The Orioles will have no fear of losing Johnson so quickly as he still has one more season until he can become a free agent. If there is one major failing of the Andy MacPhail regime, it was spending $22 mil on free agent closers when they had one under their nose the whole time.
*Francisco Cordero had 12 saves. Sue me.They Have a Breakout Star
That day in May, Brian Roberts had broken out in a big way, hitting .376/.453/.669 with a team leading 11 home runs. While he had shown progress in previous seasons, Roberts had never even had an .800 OPS before 2005 when he finished with an OPS of .903 (139 OPS+).
This day in May, Adam Jones had broken out in a big way, hitting .296/.345/.604 with a team leading 13 home runs. While he had shown progress in previous seasons, Jones has never even had an .800 OPS season before 2012 and he currently has an OPS of .949 (157 OPS+).Miguel Tejada is in the Organization
OK, now I'm stretching. In 2005, Tejada was one of the top offensive shortstops in baseball. Now, he is down in extended spring training trying to get in baseball shape so he can go play in Norfolk.
There are other similarities too. Our first baseman was playing in Texas last season (in 2005, it was Rafael Palmiero). We are relying heavily on some young pitching to lend a hand. (In 2005, it was Bedard and Daniel Cabrera, now it's Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz). And like that 2005 team, this year's team is not deep enough to absorb key injuries and keep winning.
But that 2005 team featured one of the worst outfields in recent memory (Larry Bigbie, Luis Matos and Sammy Sosa), did not have a second emerging star like this team has in Matt Wieters and had far less depth in the bullpen.
Can this team hang all season with the like of the Rays and Yankees? I still think that is unlikely. But you really have to like their chances to win. And if they don't, this team will go down as the biggest tease during this seemingly interminable era of loss.