The Orioles’ Sunday afternoon victory over the Atlanta Braves featured a number of elements not generally seen by the Birds this season – elements that need to be a part of a winning team’s arsenal. Few teams are great at every part of the game, but winning teams need to be able to win in a variety of ways. Today’s 2-0 victory included a collection of small elements that, when all added together, result in a big win. And big wins all added together equal a great season!
Buck Showalter has spoken all year about the most critical need for the Orioles to have success – good starting pitching that takes the team deep into games. The Birds got plenty of that today from starter Wei-Yin Chen – who pitched seven shut-out innings. Without doubt, his stuff was good; but Chen did much to help his cause defensively – making all the plays and demonstrating strong athleticism. I noticed as well that he really got down the first baseline rather quickly; he’s not just a thrower.
Beyond the starting pitching, the key to Orioles success this year has been the best bullpen by ERA in all of baseball. Again today, they did their job in the 8th and 9th innings. Both Strop and Johnson threw breaking balls today that were essentially unhittable. It is a beautiful thing to see.
But at the heart of the victory today was the combination of small things … the stuff sometimes referenced as “small ball” or “manufactured runs.” I’ll confess to not being a huge proponent of small ball – of giving up valuable outs to get what is usually only a small reward. But there are games and situations where the successful execution of such is critical. Today was one of those days. And these days are more common in National League parks and settings where the pitcher bats.
The first Orioles run today came upon the heels of a leadoff double by Adam Jones to open the 2nd inning. Betemit in that situation needs to pull the ball to right side, which he did – flying out to right field to move Jones to 3rd base. Reynolds followed with a long sac fly – giving the Orioles the run they needed to take the lead, the game, and the series.
The second Orioles run again followed a leadoff double by Steve Pearce. Chen executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move him to 3rd base – where he would score on a balk. Small things – getting the leadoff hitter on base, moving him over, setting up the opportunity to score …. small things, important things.
It is difficult to win games when you only register a total of four base hits, but the Orioles did that today through the combination of moving runners, strong pitching, key double plays, and excellent matchups managed skillfully by Showalter. This team is going to more often win with flurries of homers, but if it is to be a great team – a playoff team – they will need to win some games as they did today. This is encouraging.
The AL East swept the NL East today and spanked them pretty soundly over the entire weekend. There is little doubt which league is stronger and which division of that league is strongest.
Few NL teams carry the same heavy weaponry of even the average AL team. Having seen the NL teams play thus far, it would be surely to the Orioles advantage to have a more balanced schedule that included more of these guys and less of the AL East guys (72 games). We will see what next year’s changes bring, but I cannot see how it can but help the Orioles.
Having said that, here is perhaps the worst part of having to play the NL more, and specifically going to Atlanta more – the annoying Tomahawk Chop Chant. Since it is completely and entirely impossible for me to imagine being a Braves fan, maybe I cannot affirm this following statement as a truth … but it would seem to me that even as a fan of the Braves I’d get so sick of hearing that!