The Baltimore Orioles have been to the playoffs twice in the last four years, and yet, them seem to enter every season, including this season, as AL East underdogs.
That’s fine. The Orioles (9-4) have a two-and-a-half game lead over Boston (7-7) and Toronto (8-8) in the division.
It’s still early, sure, but this year feels a little special.
“There’s a little something different going on here,” Orioles reliever Darren O’Day told Damon Amendolara and Jason La Canfora, who were filling in as hosts of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s more about attention to details. I guess before this year we couldn’t afford to sign the top-tier free agents, but they’ve made a little change this year. The attention to detail around here over a 162-game season, that plays out – the little things that can swing a baseball game one way or the other. It’s little things that play out over the course of the season that we take advantage of (that) are kind of undervalued by the so-called experts.”
Any expert would certainly love to have O’Day. He has nine strikeouts in 6 and 1/3 innings and is yet to allow a run this season. Bullpen mates Zach Britton, Dylan Bundy and Brad Brach, among others, have also been solid, allowing just one run apiece.
Of course, an elite bullpen is nothing new in Baltimore.
“Bullpens, they weren’t really sexy in years past,” O’Day said. “We were like the left tackle: Nobody paid attention until the quarterback’s head is laying on the ground and he’s in the paper for letting up the sack. We only get in the paper if we blow a game. But in the past few years, the bullpen dynamic has changed. They’ve become such an important part of the team. They’ve done a great job of assembling a variety of arms here. We’ve been pretty steady since 2012, having one of the top units in the league. We always put together a good seven.”
Buck Showalter deserves some credit for that, especially since he often predicts – accurately, we might add – what will happen during a game.
“He’ll talk to me about it before games sometimes,” O’Day said, “like, ‘Hey, I’m going to bring in a lefty in the sixth. (The opposing manager is) going to pinch-hit this guy and then you’re going to face him in the eighth. I already know what he’s going to do because he’s a reactor.’ Little things like that you can learn from Buck and you can tell how far ahead of the other guy he is. It’s just such an asset that he can manipulate the match-ups to suit us best.”
Offensively, Baltimore has several mashers, including Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Manny Machado, each of whom has five homers. Machado, though, is hitting .407 with a .467 OBP.
“He’s the real deal, man,” O’Day said. “Early in his career, he was only hitting the cookies – the fast balls down the middle or the spinning sliders. He would pull them to left-center, maybe poke them to right once in a while. But now he’s hitting good pitches with authority, no matter where the guy’s throwing. It’s fun to watch. He’s using the whole field. He powers balls to right-center, he can yank a bad breaking ball. We already know what he can do defensively. They don’t give out platinum gloves to just anybody. He’s the total package. He can run a little bit, too. I feel like every time he’s playing, he’s getting a day better and he’s still learning.”
Based on his production, it seems Machado, 23, deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
“Yeah, I think he deserves to be in the conversation with those guys,” O’Day said. “That’ll come soon.”