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BALTIMORE — As the Orioles were in the midst of erasing a 6-2 deficit Wednesday night against the Washington Nationals, you could almost imagine their collection of hitters uttering a spoof of the famous line about badges often heard in cinema.
Pitchers? We don’t need no stinkin’ pitchers!
And who could blame the lineup for saying it when you look at the impressive numbers through the first two months of the season? Entering Thursday’s game, the Orioles were leading the American League in runs scored (271), hits (515), doubles (118), home runs (75), slugging percentage (.464), extra-base hits (197), stolen bases (41), and on-base plus slugging percentage (.796). Baltimore also ranked second in batting average at .276.
Of course, baseball-minded people know better, acknowledging that an offensive-minded club short on pitching will provide plenty of excitement but typically fall short against the best opponents possessing the best pitchers. But the Orioles are used to bucking the typical trends as their improbable 2012 season showed.
Leading the way offensively is first baseman Chris Davis as he stroked two more homers Wednesday night to bring his league-leading total to 19. In addition to being on pace for a club-record 57 home runs, Davis’ .766 slugging percentage at the start of Thursday’s action was 110 points higher than the second-place and 2012 Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers.
While it hasn’t been as enjoyable for a pitching staff currently ranked 12th in the AL in team earned run average (4.52) and 12th in starter ERA (4.90), a confident offense has done the bulk of the work in a 30-24 start. Entering Thursday’s game, Orioles starting pitchers had failed to complete at least six innings in six of the last seven games, but the club managed a 4-3 record over that stretch. Freddy Garcia’s eight shutout innings appeared to snap that streak as the Orioles collected a 2-0 win over Washington Thursday night.
The dominating performance of the lineup was never more evident than Wednesday when the Orioles turned a 6-2 deficit into a 9-6 victory by mashing a season-high four home runs, three coming against one of the National League’s best starters in Jordan Zimmermann. Davis collected three more RBIs to give him 50 on the year. The slugging first baseman has credited improved patience at the plate in drawing 29 walks after drawing just 37 all last season.
“It’s fun,” said Davis, who didn’t hit his 19th homer until Aug. 18 last season. “You are always working on things. Just the consistent approach every day has helped me out. The routine. I heard for such a long time that routine is such a big part of this game and I’ve really found one that I like. I’ve continued to do that every day.”
Davis is the first to tell you he hasn’t done it alone as you look at the first seven spots of the order and won’t find a better group in the league. The Orioles currently have four players on pace to hit more than 20 home runs and six on pace to hit at least 15.
Included in that latter group is 20-year-old Manny Machado, who is hitting .336 and is on pace to hit a major-league-record 75 doubles. Put on the spot to discuss the production of the entire lineup, Davis recognized the success of the young third baseman, who is leading the majors with 25 doubles and was tied with Cabrera for most hits in the big leagues entering Thursday night.
“I think [the collective effort] has been a key for us all year. Manny [Machado] is swinging the bat well, Jonesy (Adam Jones), Nicky [Markakis], Manny, Nate [McLouth],” said Davis before realizing he had mistakenly mentioned Machado more than once and offering a quip in his defense. “Everything that has to do with Manny has to do with doubles, so I just said it twice. We are really putting together good at-bats one through nine and one guy is not having to carry the load.”
The Orioles are currently on pace to hit 230 home runs, which would be second-most in franchise history behind the 1996 club that stroked 257 and advanced to the postseason. This year’s club reminds many of that veteran-laden club that mauled opponents into submission while pitching poorly in the process.
Though that starting rotation possessed such names as Mike Mussina, David Wells, and Scott Erickson, the Orioles posted a starter ERA of 5.47 and team ERA of 5.14 that season, with the only saving grace being a solid bullpen led by Randy Myers. Despite possessing the most-prolific homer-hitting lineup in the history of the game at the time, the club slugged its way to an 88-74 record that was just good enough to advance to the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.
Are the Orioles facing similar prospects this season?
With Wei-Yin Chen currently sidelined with a strained oblique and Jason Hammel and Miguel Gonzalez appearing to work their way back to some form resembling their 2012 production, there is some room for encouragement. There’s even more if the back end of the rotation can occasionally provide a performance like the eight-inning gem from 36-year-old Freddy Garcia on Thursday.
But the doubts about the pitching will remain and they should when you’re lacking a true top-of-the-rotation starter. The debate will go on throughout the summer over how far the Orioles should — and will — go to acquire more starting pitching, but the likelihood of dealing for a pitcher to fit at the top of the rotation appears bleak unless they’re willing to part with Kevin Gausman or Dylan Bundy.
In the meantime, the Orioles will ride their remarkable offense while hoping that a couple more starters emerge like Gonzalez and Chris Tillman did in the second half last season to stabilize what was a very shaky rotation through the first four months of the season. As fans and pundits continue to wonder whether the Orioles can succeed with a potent offense and the same inefficient pitching, the club itself doesn’t seem to be nearly as concerned.
“There’s just not a whole lot of panic,” Showalter said. “I think they have a lot of faith in each other. They really do. I think our pitchers feel that way, too, if we can just get some zeroes up there and get the momentum headed in the other way. I think what I see is a young group, the youngest one in the division, but still a mature group. They don’t panic.”
And as long as they keep hanging crooked numbers on their side of the box score, the Orioles appear to be OK for the time being as they work through their pitching issues.