The Orioles are now 24-17 in the second half of the season. The team is playing great ball in the midst of a hunt for a playoff berth. Here are the my keys to the Orioles second half success thus far:
1. Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta’s demotions – Clearly, these two players were not having a great year and it seemed that every time they took the mound, they were going to automatically give up 5 or 6 runs. This put the offense in an incredibly difficult position without even taking the field. Just knowing that they would have to score big that night puts added pressure on the team. With these guys now back with the team, we will see if they were able to work out their difficulties in the coming weeks.
2. Nick Markakis’s move to the lead-off spot – Since being moved to the top spot in the order, Markakis is batting a whopping .337/.384/.506 with 10 doubles, 5 homers and 20 RBI. Nick is a player who likes to take a lot of pitches so the lead-off spot is completely tailored for his batting approach. His success has been due in large part to that as well as getting some rest after coming back from his hand injury.
3. Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman – With the injury to Jason Hammel and the demotions of Arrieta and Matusz, the Orioles turned to these two guys to keep the team’s head above water. They have done that and more. Gonzalez has had to face a number of teams aces this year by shear scheduling quirkiness and has posted a 3.66 ERA with 49 SO. Tillman has also filled in nicely and has earned a regular spot in the rotation with his 3.71 ERA and 42 SO.
4. Buck Showalter – Buck Showalter has taken this team of, lets face it, average players and turned them into a playoff contender. Shrewd personnel and managerial moves have been the reason for most of their wins. Showalter has infused a “never give up” mentality into these players and they have bought in. The Orioles are 12-2 in extra innings, 23-6 in one-run games, and 21-12 in two-run games. This team wins the close games simply because they just won’t let the other team do so. They exude confidence and that can never be underestimated.
5. Manny Machado and Steve Johnson – While I am not ready to crown either of these guys All Stars yet, the two have come in and helped in big ways. Both had a lot of buzz surrounding them as they were called up. Manny Machado for the fact that he is the top batting prospect in the Orioles system and Johnson for the fact that he is a local kid and had been pitching really well at AAA. They have invigorated the fan base that has been hesitant to come out to OPACY even during this current playoff push. Johnson has filled in well during his couple starts and Machado is playing great defense at third (which the Orioles had been lacking) and is putting up decent numbers at the plate.