Baltimore Orioles are the 2014 AL East Champs…what’s next?

So, it’s official. After dropping the final six games of what appeared to be a promising season in 2013, the Baltimore Orioles have won the AL East title, marking the first time since 1997 that they’ve clinched the division and just the second time since 1997 that a team other than the Yankees and Red Sox has taken the division (the Rays won it in 2008). What makes it better is that, with five games left this season, the second-place Yankees are a devastating thirteen games behind the Orioles. Thirteen! Sorry, Jeter. Now, before you go attributing this gap to Yankees and their inability to find quality talent despite their massive budget, I would remind you that there are concrete reasons to the Orioles’ success. They have overcome team-altering injuries (Manny Machado, Matt Wieters) and had to deal with a totally avoidable suspension (Chris Davis), but they have built a team to withstand this kind of adversity.


The Orioles have benefited tremendously from the bevy of quality pitchers they have. This season, the Orioles staff has held opponents to a .244 batting average, 5th in the American League, and have earned a team ERA of 3.44, 3rd in the American League and 7th in the entire MLB. Yet, Baltimore ranks 25th in the MLB in Quality Starts (defined as a start in which the starting pitcher throws at least six innings while allowing fewer than three earned runs), so where is this supposedly great pitching coming from?

Paul Brandley covers Zach Britton and the 2014 AL East champion Baltimore Orioles.

Zach Britton has been stellar.

The answer: the dynamic duo of Zach Britton and Darren O’Day. These two, even after losing fellow reliever Andrew Miller to a trade with the Red Sox, have performed admirably. Setup man Darren O’Day has held batters to a .179 batting average, earning 24 holds and maintaining an ERA of 1.76. Closer Zach Britton has recorded 36 saves, 7 holds and has allowed only 45 hits in 74+ innings. Batters are hitting only .179 against him, helping him to an ERA of 1.70, well below his average ERA of 4.87 during the previous three seasons.


That being said, it has not been all pitching for the O’s. With so few quality starts this year, Baltimore really needed its hitters to step up, and boy, have¬†they ever.

The Orioles currently rank 9th in the MLB with a .258 team batting average and 7th in total runs scored (686), but have been guided by a collection of sluggers that negate most of the non-quality starts. Guys like Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis have produced admirably, helping the team to the 3rd best slugging percentage in the league at .423. Say what you will about his past, but Nelson Cruz has been a beast this season, mashing 40 home runs, picking up where the now-suspended Chris Davis left off when he hit 53 home runs. Steve Pearce has also been a pleasant surprise after a disappointing 44-game season last year. He’s hitting for an average of .297 and has smacked 20 home runs, giving him a solid¬†WAR at 6.

Paul Brandley covers Nelson Cruz and the Baltimore Orioles

Nelson Cruz mashes one of his 40 home runs.

In the end, we’ll need to see how the Orioles handle themselves in the playoffs. Each of the hitters mentioned in this article were in the playoffs when the Orioles last made it (Nelson Cruz lost to the Orioles with the Texas Rangers in the one-game playoff), so this isn’t their first “rodeo”. However, it remains to be seen how a team that missed the playoffs last year and lost two stars in Machado and Davis will perform against star-studded teams like the Angels and Tigers. Either way, it’s time to break out the playoff gear!

Let’s go O’s!