It has become apparent during the first three months of this season that the Orioles are determined not to conform to anyone's expectations, regardless of whether those expectations are good, bad or somewhere in between.
Take the past nine days, for instance.
The Orioles suffered a fairly disheartening loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on June 16 and then proceeded to win the next two games at Tropicana Field. They one-upped themselves in the disheartening department Friday night with what appeared to be a devastating loss to the New York Yankees before winning the next two games and defeat the seemingly-unbeatable Masahiro Tanaka in a one-sided series finale Sunday in the Bronx.
If that wasn't enough drama and counterintuition, manager Buck Showalter pulled Delmon Young out of Monday night's game after a three-hit performance to send up struggling Chris Davis with the Orioles down to their final two outs against the Chicago White Sox and — as Ricky Gervais likes to say in those irritating Audi commercials — you know how it goes.
This continues to be a season in which the Orioles defy all logical and statistical explanation and the proof is in the way they have risen (and sometimes slipped) to the level of their competition.
Did anyone seriously believe they would come back from that gut-punch by the Yankees' Carlos Beltran on Friday night to win the next three games and outlast both Tanaka and White Sox ace Chris Sale? And can anyone explain how they have looked like a different team against the elite pitchers in the American League from Day One?
The statistics don't lie. In the 15 games in which the the Orioles have faced starting pitchers who are currently among the top 15 in the league in earned run average (minimum 10 starts), they are 10-5 and those pitchers are 3-7. Against everybody else, they entered Tuesday's game with a .500 record and — to stretch the incongruity a little further — they are 5-9 in games started by pitchers who currently own an ERA of 4.50 or higher.
If you ask Showalter to make sense of that, he's going to tell you that it really isn't such a stretch of your statistical imagination. Of course, he's the guy who thought it was a good idea to sit Davis on Monday night and save him until he needed the Orioles' first walk-off, pinch-hit home run in 26 years, so what does he know?
“Just because somebody else beat up on a guy the last time or the guy has a certain ERA … you can't say because he pitched fifth in the rotation coming out of spring training he must be [ineffective],” Showalter said. “Everybody that you see out there is capable of pitching really well against you and every guy with a great track record is capable of being beat.”
The Orioles drove home that point just a week into the season, when they pulled out of a confidence-shaking four-game losing streak by defeating AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander at Comerica Park.
Remember, this is supposed to be the year of the pitcher, but the Orioles have faced a former Cy Young winner seven times so far this season and Verlander, R.A. Dickey, David Price and Jake Peavy have combined to go 2-4 with a 4.87 ERA in those games.
Once again, when you throw that statistic around in the Orioles clubhouse, the hitters don't consider it such a big surprise, even when it is contrasted with their 3-4 performance against the six starters they have faced this year who currently have 5.00-plus ERAs.
“I think it's more just knowing your opposition,” Davis said. “The big-name guys, you have more information on and a lot more experience against. This is somewhat of an older team. We've got some guys who have been around for awhile. That's why I think we've had some success against the top-tier guys, while the guys who are the three or four starters, maybe newer guys we haven't seen as much, you don't have as much to go on.”
Adam Jones agrees that familiarity plays a big role in the ability to compete with the top pitchers in the game.
“If you've had a hundred starts, we've got about 10,000 pitches [to look at]," he said. “If you've got four starts against a guy, the best you can do is watch his video and talk to some hitters around the league about how he's been throwing lately.”
What the hitters won't say is that they enter those tough games knowing that they have to grind out every hit and walk they can get, which may lead to a higher level of concentration and a better approach at the plate.
That would seem logical, but logic doesn't appear to be in great supply this season.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here,” at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts “The Week in Review” on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.
Rising to the challenge
The Orioles have a 10-5 record in 15 games against American League pitchers who have made at least 10 starts this season and entered Tuesday's games with an ERA that would rank among the top 15 in the league. Overall, those 11 pitchers are a combined 76-41 with a 2.64 ERA, but are 3-7 with a 3.76 ERA against the O's.
Player, ERA, GS, IP, ER, Decisions
Scott Kazmir, 2.08, 1, 7, 0, W,
Masahiro Tanaka, 2.11, 2, 14, 6, ND, L
Chris Sale, 2.27, 1, 6, 2, ND
Mark Buehrle, 2.32, 2, 13.1, 5, W, L
Anibal Sanchez, 2.33, 1, 4, 2, ND
Collin McHugh, 2.76, 1, 6.1, 2, ND
Dallas Keuchel, 2.78, 1, 6, 3, L
Sonny Gray, 2.91, 1, 5.1, 5, L
Chris Archer, 3.14, 2, 10, 10, L, ND
Jon Lester, 3.14, 1, 7, 2, L
Yordano Ventura, 3.20, 2, 14.1, 2, W, L