The 2012 Baltimore Orioles seemed to be an anomaly last season in the MLB. No one could explain why they were successful with this band of misfits and no one really jumped out as a start that completely determined whether or not this team was going to be successful or not.
Guys were stepping up all across the diamond and especially in the bullpen. The Orioles had one of the best bullpens in the majors last season, largely due to the breakout season of closer Jim Johnson and the shutdown ability of the unorthodox right-handed setup man Darren O’Day.
However, my Orioles x-factor is not a pitcher because I think this group potentially has a lot of good players to come from it, even though the starting rotation is yet to be determined.
My 2013 x-factor is right fielder Nick Markakis.
Markakis stepped in the role of the leadoff spot in the batting order in the heat of the summer pennant race and it was one of the best moves manager Buck Showalter made. Markakis was hitting lights out, getting on base and giving the Orioles a consistent bat that they seemed to lack in their lineup of streaky hitters.
Markakis is a patient hitter that has the ability to contribute extra-base hits as he has had an average of 61 a season through his first seven years of service in the big leagues. He is a career .295 hitter that averages roughly 185 hits a season and ,with the exception of last season where he played in 104 games, he has played in at least 147 games in each of his first six seasons as a major league player.
The reasons why I think the successes or failures of the Orioles will come through Markakis are because he is a well-rounded player that contributes on so many levels to this team.
Markakis’ health has to be a concern after last season as it was his first season where he had been affected by injuries. Nick is a guy who we rarely see sitting in the dugout having an off-day and this team didn’t feel right without him in the lineup. Nick staying healthy all season is a must with uncertainty in left field with the injury prone Nolan Reimold making a potential return to that position or the designated hitter spot. Plus, who can say that Nate McClouth with be the same player that he was at the tail end of last season and the postseason and not the guy who was basically shipped out of Pittsburgh and Atlanta for being a has-been? Nick provides consistency, something the other options in the outfield can’t say.
Markakis is also stellar in the field. No one plays balls off the right field scoreboard better than Nick. HE doesn’t have the best arm to gun down runners, but guys think twice about a ball hit out his way. The thought of Chris Davis ever playing that position again kind of scares me.
The Orioles are yet to come up with a starting lineup and batting order this early in spring training because they want the guys to compete for starting spots. Markakis has given the Orioles a good problem to have in that they don’t know where to place him in this lineup. When Buck moved Nick into the top spot in the lineup, he batted .335, slugged .489 and his OPS was .879. Nick was one of eight leadoff hitters for the Birds last season as he tallied the most games in the top spot with 54. The team went 33-21 in that span.
However, as good as he was Nate McLouth fared pretty good as well. The O’s went 14-8 when he lead off the top of the lineup and McLouth provides a dynamic that Markakis does not possess; he is a threat on the base-paths.
Brian Roberts coming back is also intriguing as the franchise doesn’t know who the starting second baseman will be, nor do they know how healthy Brian is. Roberts is owed $10 million this season. If he can play, he will play. If he can somewhat return to the player he was before injuries started plaguing his career in 2010, I want him at the top of my lineup. He was a 50 doubles and 40 steal guy. That’s a leadoff hitter.
A lot of things need to go correctly for the Orioles in order to have success for this season. They need to be lucky once again, there I said it.
If I am Buck Showalter, I am taking Nick Markakis and making him my No. 2 hitter simply because he will get on base and has the ability to move runners over and across the plate more consistently than Adam Jones does. In a perfect world, Brian Roberts is in the nine hole, or second leadoff spot, Nate McLouth is in the traditional leadoff spot, and Nick Markakis is hitting doubles off the right field scoreboard in the second spot.
If Nick stays healthy, this Orioles team will be much better off and maybe replicate some of the magic they brought in 2012 back to Baltimore.