Jun 07, 2012, 07:03AM

The 2012 Orioles Are a Tease

The O’s fall to mediocrity is just around the corner.

Baltimore orioles 2011 game 1621.jpg?ixlib=rails 2.1

If anything, this season has been filled with surprises. The Dodgers have the best record in baseball, a team that most pundits had written off in favor of the reigning NL West champion Diamondbacks. The White Sox and Indians have capitalized on Detroit’s floundering by claiming the top two spots atop the AL Central, respectively. Perhaps most surprisingly, though, all 10 teams in the East, both AL and NL, are still in the discussion for October play. Yes, even the Mets and Orioles.

But sadly for most Marylanders, “still in the hunt” does not translate to “likely playoff berth” or really even “possible playoff berth.” The Orioles just don’t have a strong enough team to carry them through the season atop the division. Let’s start with the competition: it’s fierce. With so many games still left between their American League East rivals, the O’s don’t have a great shot at retaining their first place position. The Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, and Jays have better teams than Baltimore, and that will inevitably reveal itself in due time. All four clubs, except maybe Tampa Bay, have more powerful lineups. Boston, even without Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Cody Ross, own the second best offense in the league, according to Fangraphs. New York ranks third, with Toronto fifth. Baltimore’s pitching is what has carried them through for long, and it’s bound to fall back to earth. Jason Hammel, the de facto ace, doesn’t own career numbers that suggest he will be able to keep up such a stellar performance. Hammel, Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz (who still has a 4.28 FIP in spite of a recent string of successful starts), and Wei-Yin Chen won’t be able to consistently shut down strong lineups this summer.

The Orioles lineup isn’t too shabby either, right? It appears that way right now, but a more in depth look will leave you skeptical. Adam Jones has been hot since April, that much is obvious. Expecting him to keep up this Matt Kemp-eque performance is unrealistic, yet a large drop-off in output is an overly pessimistic view. Matt Wieters, JJ Hardy, and Nick Markakis (once he comes off the DL) shore up the rest of Baltimore’s offensive core. Manager Buck Showalter doesn’t have many options to surround them with, though. Depth has never been the Orioles area of specialty.

But who cares about that when you have Jim Johnson? He’s lighting up the American League with an outstanding 18 saves, to go along with a stellar 5.54 K/9, a totally sustainable .164 BABiP, and, this is especially amazing, he has compiled 0.2 fWAR! Johnson’s 3.99 FIP is actually decent, but from a closer that you trust with the ninth inning, a lower number is traditionally desired. His peripheral stats, as mentioned, suggest the right-hander is due for regression. The Orioles best bet at getting value back for the reliever is trading him at the deadline.

In the long run, Baltimore’s early success is bad for the club. It’s entirely possible that they will finish above .500 with 85 wins. It’s even more likely that the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox will win more games. 2013 will not be so kind, though. A good record means a lower first round choice, and if the Orioles’ current success isn’t sustainable, then higher draft picks are worth more than a fleeting winning record. Sure, the fans will enjoy the year, but that will make them even more disappointed when the club flounders like usual in 2013.

  • Sir: You used the word regression. That is exactly what the Orioles can expect next year, even if this year produces 85 wins. A career year for players or teams is followed by regression to the mean. We can thank Bill (God) James for this observation.

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  • Tease or not, they've been entertaining for the first time in over a decade. Calculators don't like the O's, and I have my share of doubts about the starting pitching and infield defense, but winning is a helluva lot more fun than losing.

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  • I sure hope you're right. They're scaring me right now. They looked good against the Sox, excluding last night's game, this week. I'm ready for them to suck again, so here's hoping. Then again, it'd be great for them to get a wildcard slot, with of course the Sox winning the division. That's ideal. The fans deserve it.

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