We hear a lot of cliche’s in sports, and one of them is that good teams win games that they’re supposed to win prior to worrying about games against the tougher teams. While Buck Showalter is not the type of coach to take anyone lightly (and in fact he tips his cap to the opponent on an almost daily basis), needless to say that thus far this week the Birds luckily did just that. Last night they jumped all over their former teammate, Kevin Millwood (who was an Oriole in 2010), in defeating the Seattle Mariners 9-2.
This game was noteworthy of course because Baltimore native Steve Johnson made his first big league start, and of course got the win. Johnson’s line: 6 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 9 K. The two runs came on a John Jaso homer, which was the result of a pitch that was left in the middle of the plate. I’m sure that Johnson would love to have that one back, but that’s part of learning. Manager Buck Showalter seemed very impressed with Johnson’s outing, especially the 12 consecutive strikes that he threw in the first inning. He threw a lot of breaking curve balls in the dirt that resulted in swinging strikes. As Showalter alluded, he didn’t just throw strikes but he threw “quality strikes.” As a big fan of symmetry and symbolism, I like the fact that Johnson’s first big league win came 23 years to the day of his father – Dave Johnson’s – first big league win with the Orioles on August 8, 1989. If you’re going to follow in your old man’s footsteps, why not have footnotes like that?!
The Orioles opened a busy night of scoring in the last of the first inning when Matt Wieters doubled home J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones. This was set up a moment earlier when Jones hit into a potential double-play and Chris Davis slid hard into second to break it up. Nick Markakis’ third inning triple was followed by a J.J. Hardy RBI-single, and the Oriole lineup was churning the way that it was supposed to all along. Markakis would also follow up a Mark Reynolds solo homer in the fourth with one of his own, this of the two-run variety. Offensively the prize of the night probably goes to catcher Matt Wieters, who tied a career-high with five RBI.
Again, if the Orioles are serious about making a run at the playoffs, it’s teams like Seattle that they need to handle. In these last three games we saw that resolve in their eyes to do just that; call it having the “eye of the tiger” if you will. Speaking of the playoffs, the O’s also picked up a game on NY in the first part of the week, as the Yankees dropped two-of-three in Detroit. The O’s are now four-and-a-half games out of first place, and a game-and-a-half ahead of the third place Tampa Rays. However, they’ve gone from a game out of the wild card at the beginning of the week, to being the would-be fourth seed going into play tonight. The two wild card teams of course will have a one-game “series” (which counts as a playoff game), with the fourth seed being the home team.
Tonight the Birds open up a four-game set with the Kansas City Royals at the yard. Kansas City will trot Will Smith out to the Camden Yards mound tonight against an Oriole team that’s swinging hot bats right now. Smith gave up four runs in his last outing, which lasted 5 2/3’s of an inning in a loss to Texas. He’ll be countered by the Orioles’ Wei-Yin Chen, who seems to do nothing but shut down opponents’ bats these days. In his last five starts Chen has an ERA of 1.75, and and opponents’ batting average of .174. Having said that, keep in mind that Kansas City took two-of-three from the O’s at the yard earlier in the season, so this is not a team that they should take lightly.
Buck Showalter was fairly non-committal in terms of whether or not Steve Johnson would remain in the rotation. I suspect that either him or Michael Sokolovich will be optioned back to triple-A Norfolk at some point today (and for the record, my guess is that it’s Sokolovich). Someone will have to be sent out to say the least, because in a surprise move the O’s announced that they were calling up Manny Machado to make his big league debut. Machado will join the team on the active roster tonight, however Showalter didn’t say whether or not he’d get his first start or get into tonight’s game. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously Machado’s a top prospect and he represents the future. However I’m not big on starting his big league clock in terms of service time this year, and I’m not sure that a pennant race is the time or place to be providing on the job training for a prospect. But they’re calling him up for good or for ill – we’ll see how it turns out.
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