By: Andrew Atkins
After a phenomenal 2014 campaign that saw the Baltimore Orioles win the American League East (A.L. East) title for the first time in seventeen years and come on the cusp of a World Series berth for the first time since 1983, the 2015 season held high expectations. The 2015 Birds were supposed to be a “World Series or Bust!” team, with numerous free agents departing at the season’s end. Much to the fans’ chagrin, the season turned out to have Baltimoreans more excited about Ravens football than a pennant race.
The pre Buck Showalter (Oriole manager) days for the Birds of Baltimore were rough, dark, and simply put lousy. From 1997-2011, the Orioles never once finished a season at or above .500 (meaning they never won more games then they lost). During that time span, they finished dead last in the A.L. East five times, second to last nine times, and third place just once. Managers had little luck trying to revert back to “The Oriole Way,” leading to six managers being hired and then fired before Showalter’s hiring in late 2010.
At August’s start, the Orioles record sat at 52-50. This put them in a prime position to earn a spot in the 2015 Postseason. A dismal end of August and start of September brought the Orioles briefly back into the A.L. East cellar.
Fortunately for the Birdland faithful, Showalter’s squad picked it up around the halfway point of September. As of September 24, they were just four games out of the second Wild Card spot, but had three teams to pass.
Despite a late season surge which saw the Orioles end the season on a five game winning streak and sweep the top A.L. Wild Card New York Yankees (who would go on to lose to the Astros in the Wild Card game), the O’s failed to make the Postseason. At the regular season’s end, the Orioles’ record sat at 81-81, good enough for third place in the A.L. East. While it was beneficial for the fanbase to see Baltimore conclude the season on a high note, the final five games emitted a feeling of what could have been. In each of the games (except for the contest on October 1 which was delayed after the first inning due to rain), the Oriole starters qualified for a win and for the most part pitched deep into the ballgame. This streak was started on September 30 when, second year starter Kevin Gausman pitched an eight inning, one run, and ten strikeout gem in the second game of a split double header to defeat the A.L. East Champion Toronto Blue Jays 8-1. While the O’s were blown out in the afternoon game of this double header, their bats came alive in the night cap. Manny Machado (3B), Chris Davis (1B), and Matt Wieters (C) each homered, along with Jonathan Schoop and Nolan Reimold doubling.
The finale of the 2015 Baltimore season was even more eventful. First off, it was the last game to be played in the MLB regular season, with all other games concluding while the Orioles and Yankees were still in the seventh inning or so. The Orioles went on to win 9-4 behind a quality performance by Chris Tillman on the mound and key hits by Wieters and Davis. Throughout the game’s duration, there was an anxious feeling in the air at Oriole Park at Camden Yards due to the numerous free agents potentially departing this offseason. October 4, 2015 may have been the last time in an Orioles’ jersey for many Birdland favorites and stars including Davis, Wieters, lockdown reliever Darren O’Day, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, and utility player Steve Pearce.
In terms of resigning players in the offseason, Oakland Mills High School (OMHS) teacher Sara Bove believes: “We go for Davis. He’s the guy in our lineup that opposing pitchers avoid pitching to. Out of the three less expensive options (Pearce, O’Day, and Gerardo Parra), I really like them all. I think O’Day is extremely important to our bullpen, and he might end up being more expensive than originally anticipated. Parra and Pearce both give us some flexibility on defense, and I don’t think either will be too expensive for us.” Offensive producers are key to a team’s success, but so are dominant pitchers. Ms Bove continues: “The Orioles definitely need work on on their starting pitching. If the young guys (Harvey, Bundy, and Gausman) are not ready for the big leagues, we should be willing to spend some money to get a front line starter.”
Chris Davis is the most intriguing situation. Davis had yet to reach his full potential when he came to Baltimore via a trade with Texas on July 30, 2011. The Rangers also had first base prospect Mitch Moreland, so they were able to give Davis a change of scenery. Davis was known to have huge power throughout the Minor Leagues, but he only translated this into small glimpses of success at the Major League level (Baseball Reference). Looking back, this trade has been one of the best things to happen to Chris Davis’ career, for he has turned into one of the premier sluggers in MLB. In fact, in both 2013 and 2015, Davis led the majors in home runs (with 54 and 47 respectively). Now the Orioles slugger may hit the open market for the first time in his career, unless he agrees to an extension prior to the offseason. It would be tough for the Birds to compete with big markets to give Davis a lucrative deal, but it may be just as difficult for the fanbase to see Davis jacking home runs for another ball club during the next six years.