When the Norfolk Tides opened the 2013 season, they did so with a veteran coaching staff and a large group of players new to the Orioles organization. Fresh off a 2012 campaign which saw Norfolk finish with a 74-70 record, Tides manager Ron Johnson returned to Norfolk alongside Pitching Coach Mike Griffin and Hitting Coach Denny Walling, with the trio attempting to lead the Tides to their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1996 and 1997. Johnson, an International League veteran who entered the season ranked seventh among active managers with 1,335 career wins, needed to blend raw players new to the Triple-A level with a multitude of players who had previous experience in the Major Leagues. Johnson not only succeeded in meshing the Tides into a cohesive unit, he nearly led the club to its first postseason berth since 2005.
After a slow start that saw Norfolk drop four of its first five contests, the Tides caught fire and quickly became the top team in the league. Norfolk reeled off victories in 28 of its next 36 games, including a stretch of 10 consecutive home victories - the longest home winning streak in the 21-year history of Harbor Park. After play concluded on May 16, Norfolk led the division by 4.0 games over Durham, and its 29-12 record was the second-best mark in all of affiliated baseball.
After such a strong start, Norfolk ran into some tough luck in late May, as promotions and injuries helped decimate Norfolk's high-powered offense. In the span of five days, the Tides lost Jonathan Schoop, Daniel Schlereth and Jason Pridie to injury, while Danny Valencia and Yamaico Navarro were promoted to Baltimore. After being the top team in the IL for the first six weeks of the season, Norfolk slumped over the next month, going from 29-12 on May 16 to 38-36 on June 20. The Tides hovered near the .500 mark until the end of July, and they entered August three games back in the IL Wild Card standings. Norfolk would play its best when it mattered most, however, as the Tides put together the league's best record over the final full month of the season.
In August, Norfolk led the IL with a 20-11 record, while the well-rounded Tides led the league in both ERA (2.52) and home runs hit (30) during the final month. Norfolk overtook Rochester in the IL Wild Card standings, but after 143 of the 144 games on the Tides schedule, neither the Tides nor Red Wings had sealed their Wild Card fate.
Norfolk and Rochester entered the final day of the season with the Tides holding a one game lead in the Wild Card standings, as a Tides win or a Red Wings loss would seal Norfolk's first playoff spot since 2005. The Tides, who were trying to sweep a four-game series from playoff-bound Durham, lost a heartbreaker to the Bulls, falling 1-0 in 10 innings. Meanwhile in Rochester, the Red Wings rolled past Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 13-3, pushing the Red Wings into the playoffs. Norfolk and Rochester finished with identical 77-67 records, but the Red Wings won the playoff tiebreaker due to their 6-2 season series victory over the Tides.
Throughout the season, Johnson did a masterful job of keeping the Tides competitive, becoming the first Tides manager to lead the club to back-to-back winning seasons since Steve Swisher skippered the Tidewater Tides to winning records in both 1990 (79-67) and 1991 (77-65). Most importantly, 28 different players appeared on the active roster for both Norfolk and Baltimore, as the Orioles once again fielded a competitive team in the thick of the American League playoff chase.
News and Notes from the 2013 season:
- Norfolk's 77-67 record was its best since becoming an Orioles affiliate in 2007.
- There were 61 different players to appear on Norfolk's active roster in 2013, with 28 of those players appearing on the active roster for both the Tides and Orioles this season. That list includes 11 pitchers (Jake Arrieta, Jairo Asencio, Mike Belfiore, Zach Britton, Alex Burnett, Zach Clark, Freddy Garcia, Kevin Gausman, Steve Johnson, Jair Jurrjens and Josh Stinson), four catchers (Steve Clevenger, Luis Exposito, Chris Snyder and Taylor Teagarden), eight infielders (Wilson Betemit, Ryan Flaherty, Travis Ishikawa, Dan Johnson, Yamaico Navarro, Brian Roberts, Jonathan Schoop and Danny Valencia) and five outfielders (Xavier Avery, Chris Dickerson, L.J. Hoes, Jason Pridie and Henry Urrutia).
- Norfolk set a Harbor Park record by winning 10 consecutive home games from April 9 to May 3. The Tides also matched the Harbor Park record for most consecutive home losses when they dropped 10 straight from June 2 to June 20.
- Norfolk posted a league-best 55-15 record when scoring the first run of a game. The Tides also led the IL with a 60-1 mark when leading after seven innings of play.
- The Tides led affiliated baseball with 12 victories when trailing after seven innings of play. That numbers was the most in the International League since the 2009 Rochester Red Wings won 15 games when trailing after seven innings.
- Norfolk finished third in the IL with 127 home runs hit, trailing Scranton/WB (133) and Buffalo (128). The 127 home runs were the third-most the Tides have hit in a season since 1971.
- Norfolk finished with a winning road mark (37-35) for the first time since the 2004 Tides went 35-34.
- The Tides drew 13,010 fans on August 31 vs. Durham, the 10th-largest crowd in the 21-year history of Harbor Park.
- With 28 saves, Jairo Asencio became the first player to lead the International League in saves in three different years. Asencio, who was named to the IL's postseason All-Star team, also led the circuit while playing with Gwinnett in 2009 (27 saves) and 2011 (26 saves). His 28 saves were the second-most in a season in Tides franchise history, trailing the 29 saves registered by Cory Doyne in 2007.
- Norfolk had two players make the Triple-A All-Star game: relief pitcher Jairo Asencio and outfielder Jason Pridie. Asencio did not appear in the contest due to a promotion to Baltimore, while Pridie went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Tides Athletic Trainer Mark Shires was also selected to represent the Tides and the International League in the All-Star game.
- Henry Urrutia represented the Orioles in the MLB Futures Game, going 0-for-3 with a walk in the contest. Urrutia combined to hit .347 with nine home runs and 50 RBI in 81 games between Norfolk (29 games) and Bowie (52 games) this season. Urrutia also hit his first grand slam on August 26 at Gwinnett, and he registered a five-hit game on July 10 at Gwinnett.
- The Tides had two players take home International League Player of the Week honors. Freddy Garcia earned the award in April after going 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA in two starts over the week of April 22-28. Infielder Zelous Wheeler took home the honors in early June after batting .375 with four home runs and 11 RBI from June 3-9.
- First baseman Travis Ishikawa was named the Topps Triple-A Player of the Month for May after hitting .413 with seven home runs and 24 RBI. Ishikawa hit .316 with seven home runs and 31 RBI in 49 games with the Tides before being promoted to Baltimore in early June.
- Outfielder L.J. Hoes hit .304 with three home runs and 40 RBI in 99 games for the Tides before he was traded to Houston in late July as part of a package that acquired RHP Bud Norris. Hoes had enough plate appearances to qualify among IL leaders, where he ranked third in on-base percentage (.406) and fourth in batting average (.304).
- Right-handed reliever Manny Delcarmen led the league with 17 holds, as he posted a 2.83 ERA while appearing in a team-high 48 games. Delcarmen allowed just two of 33 inherited runners to score as he held IL batters to a .229 average.
- Buck Britton set a career-high with a 21-game hitting streak from June 4 to June 25, over which he batted .350 (28-for-80) with a home run and nine runs batted in. The 21-game stretch was the longest streak in the IL this season, and it tied for the 3rd-longest streak in Tides franchise history, three games shy of the franchise record of 24 games set by Gregg Jefferies in 1988. Since Columbus' Brandon Watson set the IL record with a 43-game hitting streak in 2007, only three IL players have registered longer hitting streaks than Britton: Josh Anderson (27, RMD, 2008), Randy Ruiz (ROC, 24, 2008) and Jose Constanza (22, GWN, 2012).
- Outfielder Jason Pridie led International League outfielders with a .996 fielding percentage, as he made just one error in 267 total chances. Pridie also led the Tides in games (118), hits (129), home runs (15), doubles (24), RBI (57), total bases (208), runs (69) and at-bats (479).
- In his first full professional season in the United States, 32-year-old left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada finished 5-6 with a 4.03 ERA in 19 starts for Norfolk. Wada was extremely successful over the second half of the season, as he went 3-1 with a 2.03 ERA (11-ER, 48.2-IP) after the All-Star break. He struck out a season-high 10 batters over 6.2 shutout innings on July 31 at Pawtucket.
- Right-hander Josh Stinson led the Tides with 23 games started and 11 Quality Starts. He also finished strong, as he went 2-1 with a 1.82 ERA and a league-low .176 opponent's batting average during the month of August.
- In just 65 games in a Tides uniform, Danny Valencia belted 14 home runs and registered 51 runs batted in. He homered seven times and drove in 17 runs over a nine-game span from May 8 to May 16, leading to a promotion to Baltimore on May 18.
- Infielder Yamaico Navarro led the International League with seven home runs and 23 RBI during the month of August. Navarro also made just one error in 27 games at shortstop during the month. He established a new career-high by hitting 12 home runs during the season.