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Orioles seeing success on the basepaths

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore Orioles feature one of the league's top offenses for several reasons, two big ones being home runs and batting average.

There's a third statistic that's generating some buzz, however, something that hasn't been heralded in quite some time. Seems the team has rediscovered the art of baserunning - stealing bases, to be exact.

The Orioles are tied for first in the league with 45 stolen bases. Their 84.9 percent success rate (45 for 53) is also tops for AL teams with 20 or more steals.

Kansas City also has 45 steals, but the Royals have been thrown out 10 times to Baltimore's eight.

The Orioles made their postseason run in 2012 despite finishing last in the league with 58 steals. Five years before that, they ended the year with an AL-best 144 stolen bases, but in the next four seasons their best finish was a tie for eighth (2008, 81).

It might not be a concerted effort to run more, but the Orioles are doing it with ease so far.

Left fielder and leadoff man Nate McLouth is second in the league this season with 19 steals (one caught stealing). Center fielder Adam Jones hasn't been thrown out yet and has nine stolen bases.

Second baseman and reserve Alexi Casilla's strength is his baserunning prowess, with a perfect 5 for 5 in steals. Third baseman Manny Machado (five) and outfielder Chris Dickerson (three) round out the leaders, and the depth has helped Baltimore stay out of trouble on the basepaths and generate more offense.

"You don't want to make a stupid out on the bases, especially myself with the way the guys behind me have swung the bat this year," said McLouth, who swiped his 19th base Sunday against Detroit. "For me, it's got to be a high percentage play."

The Orioles have 15 consecutive steals dating back to May 18, when Nick Markakis got caught trying for second base against Tampa Bay.

Baltimore finished last month with 25 stolen bases in 29 attempts, second best in the AL in steals and percentage (86.2).

"A lot of that's done pre-game, in the video room, there's scouting reports and things like that," McLouth said. "Just knowing what you're looking for when you're on the bases."

Orioles manager Buck Showalter credits McLouth and Jones, among others, for going over scouting reports on opposing pitchers and their tendencies with runners on base.

Jones and Showalter praised first base coach Wayne Kirby for his baseball IQ on everything from pick-off moves to optimal running counts. Other than that, Showalter said, most times it comes down to common sense.

"You'd be surprised how many of our guys are on their own," Showalter said. "I trust Kirby, and I trust the guys. You have to, because if you're constantly waiting for a signal and the right pitch ... it kind of takes the feel for the game."

Jones takes it a step further.

"There are certain spots where you have to go and you need to go, and certain spots where you just can't but you want to," he said. "You've got to know what's going on in the game."

Jones, who led the team in 2012 with 16 steals in 23 tries, said smarter baserunning has led to more offense.

Knowing when not to go can open the left side of the infield for lefty hitters like Markakis, Chris Davis or the switch-hitting Matt Wieters. Other times, stealing to avoid a double play is crucial. And it doesn't hurt to put yourself in scoring position, Jones said, with the Orioles possessing legitimate power.

Machado leads the league with 25 doubles; Davis is third with 19 and first in home runs with 20.

"All it takes is a single from there, and we have some guys who can get the single," Jones said. "So now it's put ourselves in good position to score runs."

The result is a playoff contender with few weaknesses on offense.

"They do their homework," Showalter said. "You have to know if a guy takes the signal with the ball in his hand or not in his hand. Are they going to throw over early? Do they only pick after they come to a halt?

"You can't force something that's not there. The pitcher's paying the price to the hitter. There's always something to gain there."

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