Chris Davis (right) and Adam Jones both went deep against Tampa Bay at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Wednesday. Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Orioles welcome A's after stumble against Tampa Bay

As the Baltimore Orioles host Oakland for three games beginning tonight at Camden Yards, it’s time to wrap up the Tampa Bay series, the first three of seven games the Orioles had left against Tampa Bay.

The first two were not easy to watch.

Most championship teams, or close to it, have had weaknesses, but they ended up not mattering. I keep thinking how odd it is that Adam Jones has almost 30 more RBI than he did at this point last year and is hitting .300; Davis’ season is the explosion that it is; and the defense is on the record pace that it is, but the Orioles’ record is just keeping pace with last year. I’m not saying the reasons aren’t well-documented or I don’t know them, I’m just saying you can never go into a season thinking if this or that performs as it did last year, a team will do great. It’s too long a season to have predictions mean that much, due to slumps and injuries. Something goes right or exceeds expectations, but something else doesn’t pan out.

Monday night, Brian Roberts‘ 0-for-5 game could have happened to anyone, and he had been on a  roll, but at least two of the at-bats were over early. First-pitch outs with men on … yes, those awful words again … men on base. Ten left on in the first five innings is something you don’t see every day. And it just kept going, until it reached 15 for the game.

Jones sometimes seems to counterbalance the good job he does most of the time with at-bats like the one after Chris Davis‘ 8th-inning double. Swing and a miss, foul ball, swing and a miss, have a seat, with a chance to tie the game. Why? Of course, arguing the other side, what if he had hit one of them? Still, it could not be called a productive at-bat.

Davis’ snare of an 8th inning line drive and conversion into a double play was greatness. Defensive play of the night. Alexi Casilla‘s steal in the bottom of the 9th? I do that with one out to stay out of a game-ending double play, but I hold him with none out. That’s not to say there isn’t a case both ways. He makes it and Nick Markakis gets a hit, it’s tied. He stays put and Markakis hits it at somebody, it’s a double play, but there’s another hitter to go. It just didn’t work out.

The Rays delivered more pain the next night, when T.J. McFarland and Jim Johnson combined to give up four, 9th-inning runs in defeat. Karma finally arrived in the third game, when the Orioles salvaged the series with a win, and Matt Wieters threw out Kelly Johnson stealing for the game’s final out. Prior to that, Tommy Hunter fielded a comebacker and went to second with it, forcing out the potential tie run. Majestic solo home runs by Jones and Davis were earlier highlights. It was Davis’ 46th, tying him with Jim Gentile for third-most in a season in club history.
It was a game of economical run production. Jones plated a run in the first inning, grounding into a 6-5 force on the first pitch with the bases loaded.
The numbers now say the Orioles are 68-58, 5 1/2 games out of first and 3 games behind both Tampa Bay and Oakland, this weekend’s opponent, for a wild-card berth. They need to go 22-14 to win 90, and even just that much is better than the 15-15 pace they’ve been on since the All Star Break. If you are a glass-half-full person, you can point to the fact that while the Orioles have not gained an inch on first place without falling back another inch since the break, neither has Boston pulled away.
This weekend, the Orioles miss Bartolo Colón and A.J. Griffin, the only two A’s pitchers with double-digit wins. Boston goes West to face the Dodgers for the weekend, and the Red Sox will miss Clayton Kershaw, who shut out the Miami Marlins yesterday. But the Dodgers haven’t gone 45-10 since June 22 just by depending on him. They have posted a 1.86 team ERA during a recent 10-2 stretch.
Boston is batting .318 and averaging 5.9 runs in interleague play – both the best marks in baseball. Shane Victorino (.455) and Jacoby Ellsbury (.438) own the top two AL batting averages in interleague play this season. Victorino, 11 for 22 over his last five games overall, is slugging .750 in 11 games against the NL, and Ellsbury has scored 16 runs in 15 interleague games. Carl Crawford has hit .467 (21 for 45) off John Lackey, Saturday night’s Red Sox starter.
So there are paper arguments in favor of both teams. Looking ahead, which is something experts do but not players, the Orioles travel to Fenway to face that Boston team following this weekend’s Oakland series. But the Orioles have 3 1/2 games to gain on Oakland for potential wild-card consideration. Today is just as critical as tomorrow at this stage. Striking a familiar note, Oakland has batted .131 with runners in scoring position in its last nine games, including one extra-base hit and 15 strikeouts.
Did I leave anybody out? Oh, right, the Yankees, a mere half game behind the O’s in the wild card standings, visit the Rays this weekend. The Yankees have won a season-high five in a row since the return of the man the baseball world loves to despise, Alex Rodriguez.
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