June records evidence that there's more than one road to success
By Richard Justice
The Cleveland Indians had an extraordinary June. They posted the best record in baseball, at 22-6, for that month, and they still have that 13-game winning streak alive and well. And they have been doing it the old-fashioned way.
In June, the Tribe rotation was baseball's best: 16-4 with a 2.50 ERA. The bullpen was baseball's best: 6-2 with a 2.13 ERA. Roll those numbers around in your mind. To run up an overall 2.42 ERA for a single month is something special.
The margin of error against Cleveland has been just about zilch. The Indians allowed three runs or fewer in 20 of 28 games in June and went 18-2 in those contests. No other team was close. The Astros finished next, with a 3.11 staff ERA for June -- which is great, but barely within shouting distance of 2.42.
Good teams lead with pitching. Cleveland's pitching staff is extraordinary. This is a staff that could dominate October.
Great pitching will give a team the chance to win every game. You're never out of a game when the pitching is good, especially this good.
So how do we explain the Baltimore Orioles?
The O's went 19-9 in June -- a very good month, the fourth best in baseball, behind the Indians (22-6), Rangers (20-8) and Astros (18-8). But Baltimore's starting pitching has been poor, for the most part. In June, the O's rotation was 12-6 with a 5.56 ERA.
Twenty-five teams had a better rotation ERA than the Birds, and 100-plus years of baseball say this is no way to run a railroad.
Bullpen? A normally solid group had a decent but not outstanding month, compiling a 3.79 ERA. Nine teams were better. But the Orioles still stretched their lead in the AL East to five games. Two weeks ago, the Orioles and Red Sox were tied atop the AL East. Since then, the Orioles have gone 10-4; the Red Sox, 5-9.
How the Orioles did it is far different from how the Indians do business. The Orioles score runs -- lots of them. They hit home runs, and at a historic pace.
Sure, the Indians score runs, too. They're scored 5.1 runs per game in June, which is plenty good enough, especially for that pitching staff. Only nine teams were better.
Here's what the Orioles did: They scored a whopping 6.6 runs per game, most in baseball by a mile. The Blue Jays were next, but way behind, at 5.9 runs per game.
The Orioles hit 56 home runs in June. No team had ever hit that many. The 1996 Athletics had the record, with 55 home runs in June. And the O's came close to making even more history.
No team has ever hit more than 58 home runs in month. The 1996 Orioles (May) and '99 Mariners (May) share the record.
In their 28 games in June, the Orioles scored at least 11 runs six times, including three in a row before Thursday. Only 10 times did they score fewer than five runs. The Orioles were 14-4 in June when they scored at least five runs, and 5-5 when they didn't.
Can the O's win the AL East doing it this way? Why not? They're halfway there, and have a five-game lead. Is there an AL East team capable of passing them them? The Red Sox are shopping for pitching, and team president Dave Dombrowski has a history of making impact deals at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
The O's are shopping for pitching, too. They like their front two -- Chris Tillman and Kevin Gausman. They're hopeful that Yovani Gallardo, back from the disabled list, will add quality starts in the second half of the season.
If manager Buck Showalter has the opportunity to line those three up in a postseason series, the Orioles will be tough to beat. After the front three in the rotation, there are questions. But other AL teams have questions, too.
Maybe history counts, too. The Orioles have won more games than any other AL team the last five seasons. Showalter is one of the best managers in history. Their clubhouse leadership core -- Jones, Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy -- is exemplary.
In other words, there's way more to like about the Orioles -- maybe enough to overcome a rotation that isn't the best. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, there is the kind of team every baseball executive hopes to build.
See you in October?
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.