The Orioles clubbed six home runs in their win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night, giving them a major league-best 144 this season. They are the only team in the major leagues that is on pace to hit 200 home runs in 2014.
The Orioles have done this without getting great seasons from either Chris Davis or J.J. Hardy. They combined for 78 home runs last season, but have totaled only 26 in 2014. Hardy had two on Friday and Davis hit one. Nor have they been unusually good at winning games in blowout fashion, like they did on Friday.
Besides the power and Cruz’s big season, what else has been pivotal in the Orioles’ having the largest division lead in the majors this season?
Getting through a key injury
The Orioles have survived the absence of catcher Matt Wieters, who is out for the season after having elbow surgery in mid-May.
The Orioles were 20-14 when Wieters played his last game, but have gone 46-35 since then.
The Orioles are 31-17 when Wieters’ primary replacement, Caleb Joseph, starts. Joseph’s forte is defense, as he has eight defensive runs saved this season. But Joseph has also contributed at least a little bit on the offensive end. He didn’t play on Friday, but got a well-deserved rest after homering in four straight games. Joseph’s backup, Nick Hundley, didn’t homer on Friday, but had a nice 3-for-5 game hitting in the No. 9 spot.
If you had taken 20 guesses before the season started as to who the Orioles' leader in wins above replacement would be, outfielder Steve Pearce (3.7) would not have been on the list.
Pearce came into Friday’s game as a late replacement and hasn’t played much recently, but he’s been a big part of Baltimore’s success, with an .862 OPS and 14 defensive runs saved split between left field and first base.
He entered the season with a .238 batting average and .694 OPS for his career and had never had a season in which he contributed more than 0.5 WAR.
Winning the close ones
Two seasons ago when the Orioles were a playoff team, their specialty was winning close games (29-9 in one-run games) and extra-inning games (16-2).
They are 24-17 in one-run games this season and 12-4 in extra-inning games.
Bullpen excellence has been a significant key to that. The Orioles' relievers rank fourth in the AL in ERA (3.22) and third in WHIP (1.19).
The Orioles feel very confident with their late-game options. Darren O’Day and Zach Britton each have ERAs below 1.60, WHIPs below 1.00 and opponents’ batting averages below .200.
O’Day has the best ERA (1.06) of anyone who has pitched at least 50 innings this season. Britton has converted 24 of 27 save chances (89 percent) in his first season in the closer role.
The Orioles' lead on the AL East seems pretty secure at the moment and they can take comfort in this.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that entering Friday, the Orioles' remaining strength of schedule ranked as the easiest among the AL East teams. Their opponents have a combined winning percentage of .493. However, they do have 10 games remaining with the New York Yankees, including three key ones this coming week.