Orioles seize first place in the AL East


People keep expecting the Orioles to falter at some stage of the game, yet to this point the exact opposite has happened. With all of the roster moves that have been made in the last week due to various reasons beyond anyone’s control, people figure that this can’t continue. Yet the Orioles seem to be taking the Christopher Walken approach…“I’ve got a fever! And the only prescription is more cowbell!” Time will tell whether or not this is for real, and for the record that hour might be coming soon. However one thing is certain; regardless of what happens in this afternoon’s series finale the Orioles have won this weekend’s battle for first place in the AL East.

Brian Matusz only pitched 5.2 innings last night and threw 95 pitches. While it’s a quality start and the O’s got the win, most would say that he needs to go deeper than that. I would point out that Matusz was failed by the defense behind him on errors by Wilson Betemit and Steve Tolleson. That’s not too big a deal in the grand scheme of things…Tampa committed five errors in the game, which tied a franchise record. While he gave up an early homer to Brandon Guyer, I felt that Matusz had a good outing (which again would have been longer had he not had to throw extra pitches due to poor defense behind him). To stick with the pitching angle for a moment, I feel that Pedro Strop is turning into one heck of a setup man. After Luis Ayala came into finish the sixth for Matusz and pitch the seventh, Strop took to the mound for the eighth inning. He struck out two and got another out by having a ball put in play. When you look back at the last year-and-a-half or so in Orioles’ history, you’re seeing little moves here and there (such as picking up Pedro Strop in a trade for Michael Gonzalez) that are now paying off for the O’s.

I mentioned the number of roster moves above; since returning from Boston one week ago, not one day has passed where the Orioles haven’t made a move. This is all still a ripple effect of that 17-inning game against the Red Sox, however it’s also due to injuries. The most recent was that Mark Reynolds was put on the DL after straining an oblique muscle in BP on Friday. His replacement?…veteran utility man Bill Hall. Part of the Orioles’ success this year has been that people that have had to step in have produced. Hall is no exception; he hit a solo HR in the eighth inning last night to put the O’s ahead 5-3. (Ironically if not for the fact that the Orioles lowered the wall by four feet this past off season, Hall’s shot probably would have been a double off the scoreboard.) Hall was rewarded for his efforts with the traditional shaving cream pie in the face from teammate Adam Jones.

By taking the first two games of the series with Tampa, the Orioles have guaranteed that they’ll finish the weekend with sole possession of first place in the AL East. However this afternoon they can put an exclamation point on that by sweeping the series. A loss today wouldn’t indicate any coming doom, nor would it remove any of the luster of the first two games. It would put the O’s in first place by one game. However a win would put them three games ahead of Tampa in the standings, and possibly send them down to third place. (That would of course set up another battle for first place on Monday and Tuesday when NY comes to Camden Yards…but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!)

Fans will be treated to a spectacular pitching matchup this afternoon at the yard, as Jake Arrieta is opposed by Tampa’s “Big Game” James Shields. The Orioles will try to ensure that Shields doesn’t live up to his nickname this afternoon, in what is a big game in terms of the division standings. One thing I found intersting; manager Buck Showalter used Matt Wieters as the DH last night. He said that the reason for this was due to Friday’s home plate collision, although he had been leaning towards doing that anyways. We’ve gotten used to Wieters getting Sundays off (day game after a night game). Is Showalter playing off of the “big gameness” of today by using Wieters behind the plate? In other words, as opposed to using what some people call the “B-lineup” on Sunday day games, is Showalter trying to keep the starters in there to try to pad the Orioles’ lineup? While you’ll take winning two-of-three in a series anytime, in the past the O’s might have let their guard down in a series finale by “getting some work for some bench players.” That’s not necessarily the case anymore.

Going back to the roster moves for just a moment, the Orioles will call up Xavier Avery for today’s game. (Avery is already in Baltimore but will not officially be activated until just prior to the game today.) Avery’s been on a tear with triple-A Norfolk; he was hitting .273 with an OBP of .373. Avery is an outfielder, so one presumes that he’ll see a significant amount of time in left field due to Reimold and Chavez being out. If he gets into the game today either as a starter or later in the game, he’ll be making his big league debut. The O’s will of course have to send a player down to the minors in a corresponding roster move. My personal opinion is that it’ll either be Tommy Hunter or Dana Eveland (I’m leaning towards Eveland). The Orioles currently have six starters; I suppose they could send one of those guys to the pen and send down a position player, however we’ll find out for sure just prior to gametime.

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