With last night’s 5-2 win over Toronto, the Orioles earned their first series sweep of the Blue Jays since September of 2010. When I think to that time, I’m reminded that the Birds had literally failed to win a game against Toronto up to that moment. Finally at the 11th hour of the season, new manager Buck Showalter led them to victory over Toronto for the first time in 2010.
More importantly, what’s going on with the Orioles right now? At 12-7, they’re tied for first place in the AL East. Whether or not this leads to a full-fledge penant race is another story; however the O’s are playing with a certain swagger right now that hasn’t been seen in Baltimore in quite some time. Last night’s 5-2 win over the aforementioned Blue Jays showed once again that these Birds can rise to the occasion when need be. Adam Jones’ home run in the eighth inning gave the Orioles the lead in a game that had previously been 2-2. Chris Davis added on some insurance runs with a homer of his own (of the two-run variety). This on the heels of Brian Matusz showing up and giving the best effort he’s had in quite some time.
However the Jays are now out of town and they’ve been replaced by the Oakland A’s who open up a three-game series with the O’s starting tonight. Jake Arrieta climbs the hill for the O’s fresh off of a somewhat lackluster outing at L.A. last Saturday night. Keep in mind that Arrieta and the O’s will be facing an Athletics’ lineup which is headlined by Yoenis Cespedes, who you’ll remember was the junior version of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes this past off season. Along with everyone else, I was a bit surprised that the A’s assigned Cespedes to the big league’s right away, however the fact remains that he’s a bat of which Arrieta will want to be wary given that he has five homers on the young season.
Oakland will counter with Brandon McCarthy who’s 0-3 with a 3.38 ERA. According to scouting reports McCarthy is struggling to locate his pitches in the strike zone, which bodes well for Oriole hitters. The Birds got Nolan Reimold back last night after being out for a few days with neck spasms, and they’ll also get Robert Andino back tonight after spending a couple of days in Miami for the birth of his daughter. (On behalf of Birds Watcher and the Fansided Network, our most sincere congratulations go out to the Andino family!) Speaking of Andino, remember last September when he ended the Boston Red Sox’s season with his walk off double?…
…why bring that up again now? That’s last year! That moment at this point is looking like a turning point for this franchise. For the first time in however many years, the Orioles believe in themselves in games. The past few days have brought difficulties in scoring runs; the O’s found ways to win. As I said yesterday, teams will go through phases where they have trouble scoring and phases where they do nothing but score. It all evens out at the end for the most part. However in the past the Orioles would have lost games when they couldn’t score. Perhaps they’d battle to a certain point, however in a 2-2 game against a division opponent they’d probably end up being the one to fold at the end of the night. Now they seemingly have the confidence and the moxie about them to be able to believe in themselves enough to battle on. Nobody’s going to come through in the clutch 100% of the time, but the O’s are certainly doing a good job of trying.
In my opinion a huge reason for this early season success is the vastly improved bullpen. In the past the Birds would have brought in a reliever after a solid start by someone like Brian Matusz last night and he would have blown the game. The likes of Ayala, O’Day, Patton, and Jim Johnson are much improved over the crew the Orioles had last year in the pen. The bullpen would blow a game and suddenly the O’s would find themselves in the midst of an eight or nine-game losing streak. Now the ‘pen is grabbing the bull by the horns and pitching…as opposed to throwing. The bullpen, along with the rest of the team will need to carry that forward in this weekend’s series against Cespedes and the A’s. However with the team looking so improved and with such a better attitude than in the past, that question lingers: is something magic happening?!
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