Those who have followed the Orioles in the last three years know how important defense has been in the team's success.

They can tell you that once the Orioles shored up their defense late in the 2012 season, bringing up Manny Machado to replace a black hole at third base, the team hit another level on the way to playoffs for the first time in 15 years.

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They can tell you about how much manager Buck Showalter emphasizes it, how he's fine with letting young players work out their kinks at the plate as long as they can hold their own with their gloves. He talks often about the emphasis placed on defense throughout the farm system and that minor leaguers know they'll have to be solid defensively to get a call to the major leagues.

And they also know that the Orioles will be involved when the Gold Gloves are being awarded.

On Tuesday, the Orioles won three American League Gold Glove Awards for the third straight year, with shortstop J.J. Hardy, center fielder Adam Jones and right fielder Nick Markakis all winning. Over the past four years, the Orioles have won a total of 11 Gold Gloves, fielding multiple winners each time. That's a lot of gold.

The Orioles are the only AL team to field three winners for three straight years. The St. Louis Cardinals did that from 2002 to 2004 as did the Philadelphia Phillies (1976 to 1979) and the Cincinnati Reds (1974 to 1977). But the Orioles have done it three times, previously in a three-year span from 1969 to 1971 and a four-year span from 1973 to 1976. It's during those spans that Brooks Robinson, Mark Belanger and Paul Blair won most of their awards.

All three of this year's winners made sure to acknowledge outfield coach Wayne Kirby and infield coach Bobby Dickerson for putting them in positions to win the Gold Glove.

The coaches' work often goes unnoticed, but if you take a look at the top step of the dugout while the Orioles are in the field, you'll often see Kirby and Dickerson positioning players. Inside the clubhouse, you can see both going over scouting reports with players in preparation for a new opponent.

Jones made sure he said winning the Gold Glove is a team award during a television interview on Tuesday night, mentioning Kirby specifically.

While we are on the subject of awards, Showalter was named one of three finalists for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's American League Manager of the Year. The winner will be announced Tuesday.

Showalter was edged for the Sporting News Manager of the Year award last month, finishing second to the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Scioscia by just one vote. That award was chosen by a panel of managers -- 14 of the 15 AL managers voted.

Don't expect that to happen with the BBWAA award, which is seen as the more prestigious honor. He figures to win the award for the third time in his career, this time over Scioscia and the Kansas City Royals' Ned Yost.

Postseason success doesn't go into selecting the award, so the voters likely will reward Showalter for winning the AL East despite losing key players like Matt Wieters, Machado and Chris Davis over the course of the season.

Nelson Cruz, who led the major leagues with 40 home runs, wasn't selected as one of the three finalists for the AL Most Valuable Player Award. It couldn't have been because he made more than half of his starts at designated hitter since the Detroit Tigers' Victor Martinez was named a finalist despite making 115 starts at DH.

What likely hurt Cruz the most -- other than maybe some lingering skeptics from his 2013 suspension for the Biogenesis scandal -- was teammate Adam Jones, who also likely garnered a share of the MVP vote. Voters rank their top 10 candidates and were likely torn in some cases whether Jones or Cruz was the Orioles' most valuable player.

eencina@baltsun.com

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