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Orioles have overcome injuries, adversity to shock baseball

No Matt Wieters? No Manny Machado? No Chris Davis? No problem.
The 2014 Baltimore Orioles roster has been a mess. But the team now finds itself in its first American League Championship Series since 1997 after sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the AL Division Series.
Wieters, the team’s All-Star catcher, underwent season-ending elbow surgery in June. Machado, arguably one of the best third basemen in baseball and one of the best young players in the game, began the season on the disabled list recovering from knee surgery. The 22-year-old returned to the lineup a month into the season, but injured his other knee in August, sidelining him for the rest of the season once again.
The injuries finally subsided by September, but the Orioles nonetheless found themselves replacing another former All-Star, after first baseman Chris Davis was handed a 25-game suspension for amphetamines associated with Adderall, which is banned in major league baseball. The suspension carries over into the postseason, so Davis would not be eligible to return until either the ALCS or the World Series, if the team were to make it that far.
Wieters hit 22 homeruns with 79 runs batted in last season, which are impressive numbers for a catcher. This season, he was batting .308 with five homers and 18 RBIs in just 26 games before getting injured. But it was his defense that made Wieters one of the top catchers in the majors.
Machado was sensational last year, batting .283 with 14 homers and 71 RBIs, along with a remarkable 51 doubles, which led the league. Like Wieters, Machado’s defense sets him apart from others at his position. The third baseman struggled at the plate earlier this season, but quickly returned to his 2013 form, hitting 12 homers in just 82 games. But just when he got hot, he went down again.
Davis trumped them all last year, leading the majors with 53 homers, the most in Orioles history. He struggled this season, batting an atrocious .196, but still contributed with 26 homers before the suspension ended his regular season. The 28-year-old is very sure-handed at first base, and did an admirable job filling in for Machado at third. But after Davis was banned, the Orioles had yet another talented player to replace before the start of the playoffs.
So how did a team with so many missing pieces finish the season with its most wins (96) since 1997, running away with the dangerous AL East Division by 12 games over the second-place New York Yankees? The answer: Heart, passion and a great bullpen.
And Buck Showalter.
Not many managers would have been able to handle the adversity that Showalter faced and still find a way to win 96 games, finishing with the second-best record in all of baseball. Not only did he lose three of his top position players, but the team’s top pitching acquisition of the offseason, Ubaldo Jimenez, fell way short of expectations.
Jimenez finished with a 6-9 record with an earned run average of 4.81. Having a losing record on a team that finished 30 games above .500 is not very impressive. The 30-year-old was projected to be Baltimore’s best starting pitcher, but ended up being its worst, and he was finally demoted to the bullpen in August.
Showalter was criticized for waiting so long to remove Jimenez from the starting rotation, but who can blame him? The pitcher signed a four-year, $50 million deal, and the team needed him to come through, which he didn’t. But the Orioles had five other starting pitchers—Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, Miguel Gonzalez and Kevin Gausman—who each had an ERA under 4.00.
As good as the Orioles’ current five starting pitchers have been, they tend to struggle at times pitching deep into ballgames. Showalter has frequently needed to turn to his bullpen before the seventh inning. The ’pen came through in the clutch time and time again, to say the least. But it didn’t start out that way.
Former starter Tommy Hunter began the season as the Orioles’ closer, and struggled mightily, blowing six saves. Showalter made an adjustment, giving the closer role to Zach Britton, another former starter.
The bullpen took off from there. Britton finished the regular season with an eye-popping 1.65 ERA, while converting 37 of his 41 save opportunities. Meanwhile, Hunter excelled in his new role and looked completely different from the guy who was blowing save after save in April.
Eighth-inning specialist Darren O’Day has done a tremendous job setting up Britton, finishing with an ERA of 1.70, while midseason acquisition Andrew Miller compiled a 1.35 ERA during his time with the O’s.
Showalter knew which reliever to turn to in certain situations, and his near-flawless bullpen allowed the Orioles to win so many close games.
Baltimore also led the majors in homeruns, led by newcomer Nelson Cruz, who finished the campaign with a career-high 40 homers. Center-fielder Adam Jones, concluding his seventh season with the team, hit 29 out of the park.
It was also the heart and passion of the Orioles through adversity that not only kept them afloat, but kept them on top of the division. Veteran players like Jones, right-fielder Nick Markakis, shortstop J.J. Hardy and utility-man Steve Pearce may not put up MVP-type numbers, but they each have a team-first mentality that keeps the clubhouse loose. Unlike some of the wealthy teams that have had clubhouse distractions in the past, the Orioles have fun and simply enjoy playing the game of baseball.
The team has developed a motto for the season: “We Won’t Stop.” It’s been all over social media the past couple of weeks, and it perfectly fits the Orioles’ 2014 season. No matter who you take out of their lineup, somebody else steps up and performs. Their comeback victory over the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the ALDS on Friday after being down 6-3 in the eighth inning was another perfect instance of their never-say-never mentality.
The Orioles are still eight wins away from reaching the top of the baseball world, but watch out. They won’t stop.

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Orioles have overcome injuries, adversity to shock baseball