Momentum is a hard thing to keep up for extended periods of time…especially in the American League East.
Just ask the defending champion Red Sox, who went from the craziness of “Game 162” at the end of the 2011 season, to a dreadful cellar-dweller type year in 2012, to winning it all this past October.
The Baltimore Orioles franchise, after years of disappointment and irrelevancy, was rejuvenated when Buck Showalter took over the show, and have since returned to prominence in baseball’s toughest division. However, the team’s success in 2014 will hinder not only on a pitching staff that will have to gut its way through the gauntlet of tough AL East lineups, but also on the broad, muscular shoulders of Chris Davis, who has finally evolved into the power hitter scouts thought he could be when he was drafted by the Rangers in 2006.
So now the big question…Can “Crush” repeat his insane numbers from last season?
Probably not. Repeating his eye-popping 2013 numbers of .286/.370./.634 with 53 HRs and 138 RBIs with over a 1.000 OPS would be a hard feat to reach for a second consecutive year, even in Camden Yards. However, if Davis can continue to make strides and at least split the difference between last year’s totals and his 2012 numbers of 33 HRs and 85 RBIs, the Orioles will once again pose a threat in their stacked division.
Last year, while Davis was blossoming from power hitter on the cusp to full-fledged “Incredible Hulk” status (look at a side-by-side photo of Davis and Lou Ferrigno…they’re creepily similar), the team itself took a step back winning only 85 games compared to 93 the previous year.
Apparently, with age comes wisdom…
During Davis’ 882 at-bats during his 266 games played with Texas over the course of his first 3 and 1/2 years in the league, he hit a total of 42 HRs and 124 RBIs. He soared past those career numbers in 2013 alone by doing his aforementioned damage in 584 at-bats last year in 160 games.
The now 28-year-old Davis has become the type of power hitter that managers often talk about when they say things like “we game plan around him,” or “we’re not going to let that guy beat us.” Granted, once Manny Machado returns from injury, the O’s have a lineup top to bottom that can stack up favorably with any of the other four in the division. Although Machado is well on his way to being the face of the franchise, for the time being, Davis is the muscle that moves the machine.
Since arriving in Baltimore, Davis has become a more patient hitter. He compiled 72 walks in 2013, 35 more than in 2012, and two more than he racked up his entire time as a Texas Ranger (70). He is evolving in keeping his hands back and driving the ball the other way as evident with 16 of his homers going to left field or left center in 2013.
Although Davis just miss the not-so-good strikeout milestone of 200 last season by one (199), there isn’t a GM or manager in the league that wouldn’t endure the K’s for the instant offense Davis can unleash at a moment’s notice.
I’m one of those guys who believes the game revolves around good pitching, however I did catch myself checking box scores and highlights daily last season to “see what Davis did today” a la McGwire and Sosa circa 1998.
Bottom line…the O’s offense is going to go as far as Davis can carry them. He doesn’t have to duplicate his monster season from last year, but he does have to keep evolving into the centerpiece of the lineup so that Jones, Weiters, Machado, Markakis, and Hardy can also continue to flourish.
Davis’ excessive numbers last year were a steal for the O’s, as they came from a guy making $3.3 million. Not bad for a guy who lead the planet in homeruns, finished second to only Miguel Cabrera in slugging percentage, and who lead the All-Star Game balloting with 8.2 million votes while winning a Silver Slugger Award and finishing third in the Al MVP race. Davis is slated to make $10.35 million this season, which is a nice bump from last year, yet still a bang for you buck bargain by today’s standards…especially when the Rangers just traded for the $200 million-plus contract of Prince Fielder, who plays the same position they drafted Davis to fill.
Keep crushing my friend.