You never want to paint yourself into a corner and say that the season hinges on one game or one series, especially at this stage of the game. Granted August begins to move us towards the end of the season, it’s also far from crunch time. However one look at the standings will tell you just how important this series is for the Orioles. The Birds are currently tied with Tampa at 55-50 for second place in the AL East behind the slumping NY Yankees. Along with the Detroit Tigers, both teams also find themselves 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the final wild card spot in the playoffs.
So you can understand why this weekend’s three-game series in Tampa is so important. In general the Orioles don’t necessarily play well at Tropicana Field, however at 30-24 they have played well on the road this year. The good news is that even in their 12-3 loss on Wednesday at NY, Oriole bats remained hot. They went “o-fer’ on the day with runners-in-scoring position again, however they did get guys on base. Rookie Matt Moore will take to the mound against the Birds tonight in Tampa; Moore is part of a pitching staff that leads the majors with a 2.45 ERA. So what gives, Tampa’s propensity for not allowing base runners (197 strikeouts as a staff and an opponent’s batting average of .200 since the all-star break), or the Orioles’ propensity for getting on base of late?
Survey says: good pitching will shut down good hitting most of the time. That favors Tampa, in case you weren’t paying attention. However, Moore himself has an ERA of 4.01 on the season. That may not be incredibly high, however he has given up a few runs here and there. He’s also 6-2 with an ERA of 3.32 in his last ten starts, but he’s coming off a 2-1 loss in Seattle this past Sunday. In other words, that’s a mixed bag of news for the Orioles when it comes to the opposing starter for tonight. The best way to work around that is to play small ball. If the O’s can continue to get runners on base and move them into scoring position, they can get some runs on the board early against Tampa…in theory. The caveat is that they need to get those runners home once they get into scoring position. Easier said than done.
Tommy Hunter will face Tampa tonight, even in the wake of his 2/3’s of an inning appearance in Wednesday’s game out of the bullpen. Manager Buck Showalter said that Hunter was scheduled to do a side session that day, so he inserted him into the game instead of having him do that in the bullpen. That’s a bit unorthodox, but the game was out of hand at that point anyways. I have to wonder if he didn’t want to give the ‘pen some extra rest in anticipation that Hunter might not go deep into tonight’s game. He’s of course been haunted by the home run ball all season, which accounts for his 5.68 ERA. It’s really the same story with all Oriole starters this year: keep the ball down!
A series win would be monumental for this team as it moves into the latter part of the season and into a pennant/wild card chase. Even withstanding the big loss on Wednesday, this team took two-of-three in the Bronx this week. New York won that last game big, but they had to win that game to begin with in order to avoid a series sweep by the O’s. The final two months will see a lot of division games for the Birds, which in reality will decide their fate for this year. However that fate and that future isn’t written yet; so beginning tonight let’s hope they make it a good one.
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