Orioles manager Buck Showalter said there is a simple key to competing with the slugging teams of the American League, clubs that seemingly can score at will: Play excellent defense.
"That sucker [the ball] stays in the park, you better catch it," Showalter said.
The Orioles have been catching "that sucker" better than any other team in the big leagues in 2013. They entered Wednesday's play with the majors' highest fielding percentage (.992).
That season trend turned downward in the Orioles' 8-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday afternoon; it was just the fifth time they have made two errors in a game this season (they are 2-3 in those contests).
Yet despite J.J. Hardy's team-leading sixth error and Ryan Flaherty's second of the season Wednesday, the Orioles have still committed just 22 this season, fewest in the majors.
For comparison's sake, Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez and Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman lead the majors with 11 errors each — so combined they've made as many miscues as the entire Orioles team.
"We have been playing great defense," Orioles third baseman Manny Machado said. "We've been getting the outs, and it definitely helps when our pitchers have been pitching well, like lately. That definitely keeps us in the groove, keeps us going and in a rhythm."
Tuesday night may have been the best of the best for the Orioles' defenders. Showalter estimated that between his club and the Angels roughly 10 "above-average" major league plays were made, including Peter Bourjos' tremendous leaping grab of a sure homer in center and Nick Markakis' two sprinting catches in the right field corner.
Maybe a dropoff Wednesday was inevitable after Tuesday's clinic.
"I don't think it can get better than that. I think that was the best performance we've had all year," said Machado, who set Tuesday's tone with a diving snag of a grounder on the first play of the game.
With five starters that have won Gold Gloves — outfielders Markakis, Adam Jones and Nate McLouth, Hardy and catcher Matt Wieters — Showalter said he thought the club's defense would be a strength. But there were some concerns coming into the spring, like the health of Hardy's right arm, Chris Davis' transition to first base full-time and Machado's first full season in the majors.
"We thought it had a chance to be a good defensive team," Showalter said. "We thought it had a chance and so far it lived up to what we thought it would be."
Davis said what has impressed him the most has not been the flashy plays — which someone on the club seemingly makes every night — but the steadiness on routine plays. Davis was part of a 2011 Texas Rangers team that had Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler in the infield. And Davis thinks this Orioles' infield play this year makes them better.
"There were times [in Texas] when I was just like, 'What?' And we have that same awe factor," Davis said. "But with us it's not just the awe factor, it's the consistency. It's the ball up the middle, with Mr. Vanilla, J.J. Hardy, going to his left and getting everything."
Davis turning heads with defense, too
Davis has been making national headlines this season with his bat — he hit his major league leading 21st homer on Wednesday afternoon as well as his 100th career double while posting his 23rd multi-hit game of the season — but his youngest teammate thinks Davis needs to be lauded for the other side of his game.
"CD has been playing a hell of a first base," said Machado. "He has been playing a Gold Glove first base."
Davis came over from Texas in 2011 with the reputation of being a good defensive first baseman, but he made four errors in 38 starts at the position last year, and he was moved to the outfield and designated hitter.
"Back then we had the best first baseman of all time defensively just hidden under a rock, running around the outfield last year just to showcase his athleticism," Davis deadpanned.
This year, Davis has started all but one of the Orioles' 66 games at first base, and he's made just two errors.