The Orioles who should have been here in the first place

Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The Orioles made the playoffs on the backs of surprising players who weren't always supposed to be surprising.

There's an Internet meme started by a Phillies parody account on Twitter, and it's real simple: should of. You're team should of kept this player, should of traded that player. The tortured grammar is intentional. It signals that you're not really serious, and it also garners a bunch of responses from the hall monitors of grammar. It's the best.

But the Orioles are the "should have" team. This isn't irony. I would have loved to use the "should of" construct over and over again, but it didn't fit. Dang it.

This is because the Orioles are filled with players who should have been better, who went down a dark rabbit hole at some point in their careers, and finally emerged on the 2012 team, helping the Orioles to an improbable playoff spot. If you're looking for a forced narrative, here you go: the should-have team.

Brian Matusz should have been good. He was picked the spot before Buster Posey, fourth overall, in the 2008 draft, and he was supposed to tear through the minor leagues. He did. He was supposed to help the Orioles right away. He did. And then … goodness, no idea. Matusz had the kind of performances that usually end with a visit to Dr. Yocum or Dr. Jobe.

But he came back. Against all odds, he's a part of the late-inning calculus for a team that relies on its bullpen. Brian Matusz is pitching quality innings for the Orioles. Well, he should have.

Jason Hammel would have had a career year if it weren't for the injuries, but he still prevented runs at a better rate at any time over his career. Well, he should have. The 30-year-old is 6'6", with good command and a fastball that's one of the ten fastest in baseball among starters. He should have been good this whole time. He just needed to get out of Colorado for everyone to see it.

Chris Davis was a neo-Dave Kingman for the Orioles this year, whomping 33 home runs and keeping his on-base percentage above water. Well, he should have. That was the plan the whole time in Texas, and that was what the Orioles were hoping for when they acquired him. In retrospect, the shaky strikeout-to-walk ratios in the minors were the red flag of a player who would need longer to develop, but he used to be one of the best power prospects in the game. He should have been a net positive to an offense.

But of all the players up there, there isn't a should-have player quite like Nate McLouth, who should have been much, much better. Or to put it differently, he shouldn't have become the punchline that he ended up as. When he was 25, he was an electric player, flashing emerging power and substantial speed. When he was 26, he led the league in doubles and hit 26 home runs, stealing 23 bases in 26 attempts. He was an All-Star, and someone was kind enough to throw him a 10th-place MVP vote. His defense was always overrated, but when the Braves acquired him, he was already an established commodity.

Then his power disappeared completely. And more than his power, his contact went into the toilet. He was never a high-average guy, but he was suddenly a consistent threat to finish under the Mendoza Line every season. When the Pirates tried to bring him back, it was supposed to be a feel-good story, but after 50 at-bats, even the Pirates weren't willing to put up with him. He was still just 30 -- born in the same year as Angel Pagan and Curtis Granderson, guys who were reinventing themselves at the same time McLouth was devolving. But it looked like McLouth's career was over.

Instead, he's an asset for a major-league team. Well, he should have been. When he was in his prime, he wasn't supposed to be a fringe player by his late-20s. That didn't make any sense.

I'm not suggesting that we should have seen the Orioles coming, or that these players were all especially likely to be good. But at one point in their careers, we would have been less surprised by the lot of them. They should have performed like this at one point in their careers. We were expecting this kind of performance before we forgot all about it. All that's missing is Matt Wieters becoming a middle-of-the-order force. Because, well, he should have. Maybe next year. Or maybe this week. Should of seen it coming, guys.

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