Orioles Provide Hope for the Hopeless
To those people, I present the 2012 Baltimore Orioles.
A year ago, the O's finished last in the AL East for a fourth straight season, and their 4.89 team ERA was the worst mark in the majors.
Now, they find themselves in the thick of the postseason race,tied with the Yankees for first place in what is routinely baseball's toughest division. Their 4.09 team ERA is exactly on par with the American League average. With three weeks left in the season, they've already posted their highest win total since 1998.
It's a pretty remarkable story, and one that should provide a spark of hope for despondent Twins fans. For while Baltimore's shocking rise has been heavily influenced by good luck (they're 17 games over .500 despite being outscored by opponents this season), their circumstances are also far more daunting than the Twins. The Orioles had been in the gutter for the better part of two decades, rather than two years, and they play in the treacherous AL East rather than the perpetually mediocre AL Central.
The most relevant ingredient in Baltimore's turnaround is their pitching staff's rise from worst-in-the-world to middle-of-the-pack. If the Twins, who currently rank 28th out of 30 MLB teams in ERA, could simply move to the middle in 2013, there's no reason why they couldn't take a shot at the Central division with some good breaks (and after the last two years, it definitely seems like they'll be due for some good breaks).
How has Baltimore done it? To quote Terry Ryan, they've done it by exploring every avenue.
You've got your unconventional free agent signing in Wei-Yin Chen, who's come over from Japan with great success.
You've got your savvy trade acquisition in Jason Hammel, brought over from the Rockies for Jeremy Guthrie (who fell apart in Colorado).
You've got your out-of-nowhere unheralded minor-league free agent in Miguel Gonzalez.
You've got young players who have previously struggled, like Chris Tillman and Zach Britton, taking steps forward.
And you've got a lights-out relief corps. The O's rank fourth in the AL with a 3.17 bullpen ERA.
Baltimore didn't go on a spending spree to repair a broken pitching staff. They got creative, showed patience with young arms and benefited from some good fortune. There's no reason to rule out a similar scenario for the Twins, especially when you consider that the GM Ryan has made numerous good moves since retaking the helm (even if that's not reflected in the team's record) and he figures to have a decent chunk of money to spend this winter.
"Be like Baltimore." For many years it would have been an insane model for success, but for the Twins and Terry Ryan, it will make for a great offseason formula.