Here on the shores
of the mighty chesterpeak, we like to talk about a little thing called Orioles Magic. Orioles Magic is an intangible thing, though I imagine if you could isolate it and dissect it under a microscope, it would be made of a Glen Burnie "O," a cigarette carton full of Earl Weaver toenail clippings, and a dusting of Old Bay. But honestly, what it is doesn't really matter; it's what it does that counts.
Orioles Magic was started with Doug DeCinces' mythic home run back in '79; Orioles Magic oozed out of Joe Altobelli and all over the '83 O's on their way to the World Series; it grew the gloves of Brady Anderson, Steve Finley, and Mike Devereaux, and the Why Not birds of '89; and was on the mound in '91 when it took four Orioles to finish a no-hitter. After the O's made the playoffs in '96 and '97, Orioles Magic took some time off for 15 years or so but was back on the mound when Chris Davis pitched two scoreless and picked up the win and was a part of all those one-run victories on the way to the 2012 playoffs. Well, right now we're about a fifth of the way through the season, and after a scrappy first month and a half, the Birds have clawed their way to the top of the AL East, but there ain't been no Orioles Magic at work. This run has been hard goddamned work and it has been an absolute joy to watch.
The O's kicked off the season with all-galaxy third baseman and lynchpin of the best defense in baseball Manny Machado on the DL. By the time, he returned, Davis-he of the biggest bat in Bird's history last season-was out with a strained oblique. Now that Davis is coming back catcher Matt Wieters is taking his place on the DL. Magic? More like a nightmare. A lot of teams would fold under the weight of serious injuries to both corners of their infield, but these Birds are built of better stuff than that. This isn't magic, just a really good team being worked by a master strategist. This season isn't lightning in a bottle, this is the product of years of shrewd, patient work. It's built on years of high draft picks finally coming together, with a few deft trades to form the bedrock of a club made to compete in the AL East: the toughest division in American sports.
In the wake of last week's NFL draft, it's good to remember just how unscientific the baseball draft is. Traditionally it's a crapshoot, and on top of that, the Orioles had a hard-won reputation for not being able to develop their own talent, but take a gander at this club. The O's took the following players in the first round: Nick Markakis in 2003, Matt Wieters in 2007, Brian Matusz in 2008, and Machado in 2010. Markakis is in the midst of a career renaissance. At the time of this writing, he's riding a 18-game hitting streak and has been on fire. Wieters, generally considered the top defensive catcher in the game, is also bringing the best bat this year. Matusz is pitching like an iron curtain out of the bullpen, and I for one hope there's a spot in the rotation for him down the line. And Machado? He's an absolute warlock on the field. Then throw in slick trades like the Bedard deal that landed team ace Chris Tillman and heart-of-the-ball-club Adam Jones, and low-cost deals like the one that brought the gargantuan bat of Nelson Cruz. This team didn't spring into existence; it was meticulously planned.
There's been no smoke and mirrors this season, and no one has pulled a rabbit out of a batting helmet. Buck Showalter has tuned this team like a Stradivarius. He's masterfully coddled his starting pitchers who haven't been able to work deep into games, but picked them up with a bullpen that has been able to hold it together. Now, those kid gloves are starting to pay off as Ubaldo Jimenez and Wei-Yin Chen are playing like the top-of-the-rotation guys this club needs. The scary thing is these Orioles were supposed to pound other teams into submission, but think about this: Before he left for the DL, Chris Davis had as many stolen bases (two) as he did home runs. Other than Cruz, who has been crushing it, these Orioles are winning without the long ball. As the summer heats up, so will those bats, and things should get mighty interesting on the flag court.
So what I'm saying is, looking at this team, there's only one conclusion you can make: The Orioles are a well-run organization. Yeah, sure, magic is awesome. I love seeing ladies sawed in half, doves flying out of butts, and designated hitters pitching for the win in extra innings, but magic only gets you so far. These Orioles have clawed their way to the top in spite injuries to all the wrong players. They are winning 'cause they're a good goddamned team that works hard and thinks hard. Now we just need to fill a confetti cannon with Eddie Murray's 1980s afro-trimmings and a wad of Jim Palmer underpants and fire some magic on top. Just 'cause they haven't needed it so far, a little magic wouldn't hurt.