As the 2008 MLB regular season rolls on by, the Orioles once again find themselves packing their things before October and returning home to their families for the 11th straight season. However, surprising as it may sound, the Baltimore Orioles actually overachieved this season.
In the March 31 issue of Sports Illustrated, they included predictions and analysis for every team in the MLB for the 2008 season. What was the record the Orioles were predicted to finish with? That would be 64-98. Similarly, ESPN the Magazine had the Orioles finishing one game worse at 63-99. However, the Orioles finished a bit closer to 70 wins and a bit farther from 100 losses. The Orioles ending the campaign with a 68-93 mark. What makes this a bit more impressive for the Orioles is that they finished with this record even while losing 11 out of their last 12. But, further more, their record doesn't do enough justice for their offense.
In the Orioles line-up, there was no superstar coming into the 2008 season. Maybe some that would become superstars, but that is where that conversation ends. The Orioles were slated to be one of the worse hitting teams in the MLB and maybe even in the history of baseball. To put in perspective, their clean-up hitter was slated to be Kevin Millar. Before the season, there was no way to tell where the runs would come from. It was just about a safe bet to say that no Orioles player would have 100 or more RBIs in ‘08 season. Once again, that would be proven wrong. The Orioles saw five players in their line-up but 20 or more balls over the fence. The Orioles were 11th in runs, 12th in hits, 6th in doubles, 13th in homeruns, 9th in total bases, 11th in RBIs, and 11th in batting average. No, this is not just counting AL teams; this is including the entire MLB. Where the Orioles figured to finish dead last, they ended in the top half of the league. The players in this line-up do not deserve just to be mention as a group, they deserve individual attention.
The Orioles' most valuable player came from a surprise source this season. This player went from calling the very town he plays in "a horseshit of a town" and being booed on Opening Day to hitting 32 bombs, driving in over 100 runs, and batting above .300. These stats got him some mild MVP talk in the AL. The question of where the Orioles' offense would come from was answered merely two weeks into the season; the answer being simply Huff Daddy. Aubrey Huff put a total of 32 homeruns out of the ballpark which is the most in a single season for him since 2003. This is also the most homeruns hit by an Oriole since Miguel Tejada hit 34 bombs in 2004. Huff's 108 RBIs in 2008 is the highest mark for his career and the highest for the Orioles this year. His 48 doubles landing him the Orioles record book near the top in most doubles in a season as an Oriole. Huff's .304 batting average also lead the team. Seeing Huff go from zero to hero in Baltimore was surely an amazing image.
The other veteran presence nearly traded during the off season that proceeded the 2008 season ending up having a great season in a Baltimore Orioles uniform. Orioles' second baseman and lead off specialist Brian Roberts was just that this season, special. As the Orioles' table setter, Robert set a record for most doubles in a season by an Orioles player. His 51 doubles broke the record that he previously held in 2004 when he hit 50. Besides the obvious good news that comes from this, Brian also took away the name Miguel Tejada in the record books for most doubles in a season in which he also had 50 in 2004. Not only did Brian have 51 doubles, he also swiped 40 bases and had his highest batting average of .296 since his steroid driven year of 2005. To go along with his 50 two-baggers, Roberts had a career high of 8 triples. His stats can be told over and over again for the 2008 season. But his stats not only affect his career numbers, they affected others'. Aubrey Huff, Nick Markakis, and Melvin Mora all got tons of RBIs from driving in Brian Roberts this year. The overall importance of Brian Roberts cannot be expressed accurately in words. To trade Brian Roberts would be a joke... a disgrace to everything that is Birdland.
The player that is a future all star, MVP, silver slugger, and gold glove winner was probably projected by everyone to have the best stats in the Orioles' lineup this past season. Nick Markakis is the Orioles' franchise player on both defense and offense. Nick's 112 RBIs in the 2007 campaign easily lead the Orioles offense. However, with a switch from the 3rd hole to the 2nd slot, his RBI totals went down. Nick once again had a 20 HR season for the 2nd time in his career. Also, he batted a career high of .306 marking the 2nd straight season of 20+ HRs and .300+ AVG for the young left fielder. Even though he was batting most of the games in the 2nd spot, Nick still drove in runs 87 times. It is scary for opponents to thing about Nick Markakis improving his game, but he did in the 2008 season. In 2007, Nick walked a total of 61 times and struck out a nasty 112 times. However, in 2008, Nick walked 99 times and struck out 113 times. His strikeout numbers may have gone up by one, but his walks total sky rocketed and so did his OBP. Once again, the stat that was the tagline of the Orioles' offensive season was doubles. And Nick Markakis smacked 48 doubles for a career high. If the Orioles do one thing this off-season, it should be to extend Nick Markakis' contract for at least 7 more seasons.
If you read carefully, you would notice something about all these players. Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, and Aubrey Huff came very close to doing something that no other trio of players had ever done in a single-season. If Aubrey and Nick would have hit 2 more doubles each, the 2008 Orioles would have been the first team in the history of the MLB to have three players hit 50 or more doubles in the same season. Yes, not even Murder's Row did this. Not even the Big Red Machine was able to do this. If the Orioles would have gotten this feat, it would have been another little thing for an Orioles fan to celebrate.
At one point this year, the Baltimore Orioles arguably had the best player in all of Major League Baseball. No, it wasn't Aubrey Huff. Nor was it Nick Markakis or Brian Roberts. It was aging third baseman and family man, Melvin Mora. Sure, Melvin's 23 HRs, 104 RBIs, 29 2Bs, and a .285 batting average aren't MVP type numbers. But if you look at how it was done, you can see how great of a season he actually had. For starters, Melvin had his most HRs in a season since 2005 when he had a career high of 27. Also, he matched his career high in RBIs of 104. In the second half of the season, Melvin drove in 56 runs. However, he did so in only playing in 48 games and having only 186 at bats. In the second half alone, Melvin had a .376 average with 12 HRs and 14 doubles in only 186 at bats. Melvin was injured on August 29th and was not 100% for the rest if the year. Imagine, if Melvin Mora did play the full year healthy, how many doubles would we have had? Melvin could have hit 50. The presence of Mora in the line-up could have provided protection for both Huff and Markakis to hit their 50. Not only could the Orioles have been the only team in history to have 3 players hit 50 doubles in the same year; but they could have had 4 players do it. "The Orioles might as well pull the plug on 36-year-old third baseman Melvin Mora and hand the job to rookie Scott Moore," said SI's Spring Training report this year. Once again, SI shows its intelligence.
To look ahead to next season, the Orioles may see a lot of changes in their Opening Day roster. One just about for sure is the emergence of Matt Wieters behind the plate. Wieters is slated to become just like Joe Mauer. However, Wieters is a switch hitter and hit for power as well as average. So, if he is better than Joe Mauer that is scary. But, the change that is in the hearts of all Orioles fans is the one to pull out the cash and spend it on Mark Teixeira. The Baltimore born player is a favorite around the Delmarva area and the Orioles would love to have him in the orange and black. But, once again, the main concern for the Baltimore Orioles is their pitching. Rick Dempsey says he wants two top of the line starters in the rotation for next year. He says he wants Guthrie as the 3rd starter. Well, who is there? CC? Burnett? Sheets? Mussina? I guess we will just wait and see.
And to all you Orioles fans, I hope to see you in BIRDLAND!