Courtesy of Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

O’s take charge in AL East


Jul 5, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Baltimore Orioles left fielder Nelson Cruz (23) reacts at home plate after hitting a home run during the fifth inning in game two against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

This past week, the Baltimore Orioles finally took complete advantage of a weak schedule, going 6-1 against the Texas Rangers and the Boston Red Sox. Their four-game-sweep at home against the Rangers and series victory against the Red Sox at Fenway propelled them to take a two game lead in the AL East.

After last week’s disappointing weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays, the Orioles needed to make the most of their series against the Rangers to salvage what was left of their relatively easy homestand.

The tone was set early in the series, as the Orioles’ bats erupted for seven runs on 10 hits, including four home runs (two by Steve Pearce). To compliment their hitting, they also got a tremendous performance by the struggling Ubaldo Jimenez (3-8, 4.52), who went eight innings and gave up just one unearned run.

From there, it was smooth sailing for the Orioles, who took all four games from the Rangers and outscored them 26-10.

Following their series with the Rangers, the Orioles were expected to play on the Fourth of July at Fenway to start their three-game-series with the Red Sox, but it was postponed due to hurricane Arthur. The postponement of the opener resulted in a doubleheader on Saturday.

The first game of the twin-bill resulted in the Orioles coming up  just short in a pitching duel between Miguel Gonzalez (4-5, 4.22) and John Lester (9-7, 2.73). The Orioles managed to score just two unearned runs, squandering Gonzalez’s gem.

The Orioles rebounded nicely after the loss, taking the second game on the back of Nelson Cruz’s five-hit performance and the third game in extra innings.

Baltimore’s 6-1 week allowed them to take a two game lead in the AL East over the Blue Jays and put them in a great position as we move closer to the All-Star break.

Despite the uplifting week, there still are some underlying issues with the Baltimore Orioles. One of them is slugger Chris Davis.

Getting the day off on Sunday, Davis went just 2-for-23 over the week, while striking out 11 times. Davis now has a line .201/.319/.386 and is showing no signs of improving.

Pearce’s emergence as a power threat has certainly alleviated many of Davis’ struggles, but Davis batting as he is in the fifth spot certainly is becoming problematic.

It will be interesting to see how the Orioles deal with Davis’ spot in the lineup when they play the Washington Nationals in the NL without the DH. Will Davis start over Pearce at first, or will Pearce get the nod?

Another issue to keep an eye on is how the Orioles will deal with their unofficial six-man-rotation.

Jimenez’s terrific start against the Rangers was followed by a very short and disappointing start against the Red Sox. The way the season has gone for Ubaldo, the leash may be getting shorter by the start.

Currently, Chris Tillman (7-4, 4.21) and Wei-Yin Chen (8-3, 4.12) are the only starters officially listed as probables for the series against Washington. Bud Norris’ (7-5, 3.62) will be returning from the DL and Kevin Gausman (3-2, 3.86) seems to have solidified his spot in the rotation. So, will Buck Showalter opt to place someone in the bullpen, or will he create some sort of rotation that sees all six men take their turns?

Pitcher of the Week:

Zach Britton made four appearances over the week and recorded three saves, allowing no runs in four innings. His performances have been dominating, as he only allowed one base runner while striking out four. Britton’s emergence as a legitimate closer has seemingly allowed the rest of the bullpen roles to fall into place and it will be a huge upgrade moving forward for the Orioles.

Hitter of the Week:

Again, it will be Steve Pearce. Batting .379 with three more home runs and 10 RBI, it’s hard to argue with his production. Though he tapered at the end the week, Pearce helped carry the Orioles to sweep the Rangers, as he made use of his increasingly regular playing time.

Coming Up:
The Battle of the Beltway will begin Monday and Tuesday in Washington before moving to Baltimore on Wednesday. The Nationals are currently in second place in the NL East behind the Atlanta Braves, sitting on a 48-39 record (7-3 in their last 10). They have been slightly above average hitting wise, but have arguably the best pitching rotation in the NL (3.03 team ERA ranks 1st in NL). Between Stephen Strasburg (7-6, 3.53) and Doug Fister (7-2, 2.93) (whom happen to be starting the first two of the four-game-set), the Orioles hitters will certainly have their hands full this week.

After the Nationals series, the Orioles will stay home to face the New York Yankees for three games before the All-Star break. New York has slipped of late, and currently sits just 3.5 out of first place. It will be an exciting and important series for the Orioles, as they will look to get the Yankees while they are down. The finale will on Sunday Night Baseball at 8pm on ESPN.

Probable Pitchers:

Monday (7:05 P.M. ET): Chris Tillman (7-4, 4.21) vs. Stephen Strasburg (7-6, 3.53)

Tuesday (7:05 P.M. ET): Wei-Yin Chen (8-3, 4.12) vs. Doug Fister (7-2, 2.93)

Wednesday (7:05 P.M. ET): Tanner Roark (7-3, 3.12) vs. TBD

Thursday (7:05 P.M. ET): Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.52) vs. TBD

P.S.

Congratulations to Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters for getting elected to the 2014 All-Star Game! It is the first time the Orioles have had three starters elected to the All-Star game since…last year. Unfortunately, Wieters underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery and will be unable to start.

Tags: Baltimore Orioles Steve Pearce

  • Dave Gruber

    As much as I hate to think about it, we O’s fans had better get used to seeing Jiminez for the next 4 years. There is no way Angelos is going to pay him to be anything but a starter. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, the O’s signed him for all that money based on one half of one season last year. Previous to that he’d been terrible for 3 years. That decision alone could very well cost us a playoff spot this season. The sad thing is that when Bundy is ready someone else will be moved from the rotation because Ubaldo is here to stay. I don’t enjoy saying this as for all indications he seems like a great teammate and his results are not for lack of effort, he just has too many mechanical issues to be consistent. Harold Reynolds made an interesting observation on the air the other day. He said Jiminez should try pitching from the stretch, that that would eliminate all the movement in his delivery. It’s something they should think about.

    • oriolesman232

      I heard that comment, too. I think pitching from the stretch would also take away his deceptiveness and ability to hide the ball. I agree 100% that he wont be losing his rotation spot any time soon, especially considering Gausman got demoted again. It really is too bad that decisions are made based on paychecks and not performance. Maybe the bullpen could offer him the chance to work on some things in low pressure situations. Thanks for reading, Dave.