It is with great relief that Orioles fans see the current eight-game road trip begin with a pair of wins over the San Diego Padres. Having lost eight of the previous 12 games – including painful series with the Royals and Mariners – these wins are exactly what the doctor ordered.
This west coast trip began with the Birds playing exactly .500 baseball over the past 44 games since June 14th. That is not going to get them into the playoffs. Currently, the Orioles are on pace to win 89 games, whereas it will likely take something like 92 or 93 victories to gain a spot.
Aug 7, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) is congratulated by shortstop J.J. Hardy (2) after a three-run home run during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
The good news is that this is very doable. Even though the Birds are at this point in the 4th spot of wildcard teams vying for the two positions, the Orioles are actually two games ahead of their record at this point last year.
There are 20 games yet in August (9 home / 11 away) and 28 in September (14 home / 14 away). There are critical games to be played against the two teams marginally ahead of them at this point – three contests at home with Oakland and three in Cleveland. As well, the Orioles have seven games with Tampa Bay and nine with Boston.
There are two trains of thoughts (perhaps slow moving freight trains?) rumbling through my mind right now that strike me as critical for an Orioles return to playoff opportunities. I don’t mean these to be exhaustive/inclusive … simply a couple of ideas that seem especially significant from where I sit and watch.
1. Will I See You In September?
These remaining 20 games in August are tremendously critical. The Orioles need to hang tight with or surpass Oakland, Texas, and Cleveland, while staying within striking distance in the AL East.
I believe the September call-ups and expanded rosters help the Orioles more than their opponents – for two reasons. The first reason is Buck Showalter and his ability to generally milk the most out of his roster. Giving him more options makes him more dangerous. The second reason is that I believe the Orioles to have better players with greater experience in that first handful or two of personnel who are just beyond the 25-man limit imposed during the first five months.
Think of it this way: how many times have Orioles fans seen the game begin to fall apart in the sixth inning? It happened just today. Much of this is due to the need to seek to have the starters go deeper into games and not wear out the bullpen. Having additional pitching options allows for a quicker hook … without endangering the back half of the pen. Ultimately the Orioles are going to need starters who can go 20 or 21 outs on a consistent basis, but that is not where the team is at right now.
Likewise, there are more options for pinch-hitting and pinch-running scenarios. And yes, other teams gain the similar increased options, but not to the extent of the Orioles … in my freight train mind!
2. M.R. Ducks and RBIs with RISP
Did you get that? If you are a true Marylander, that did not confuse you at all! Well, for those Orioles fans from outside the state, let me explain …
M.R. Ducks is the name of a popular restaurant in Ocean City. It was a name chosen many years ago by the founder of the business, a Mr. Lewis, who remembered the Eastern Shore accent of some good old boys out duck hunting. The conversation in the duck blind went like this, “M.R. Ducks!” (Them are ducks.) “M.R. not Ducks!” said the second fellow, to which the former replied, “O.S.A.R. C.M. Wangs!” (Oh yes they are; see them wings!) … “L.I.B…M.R.Ducks!”
The Orioles tend to win the games when A.R.Ducks on the pond of 2nd and 3rd base, and they get RBI-ed in those RISP situations. The Birds were 0 for11 in the most recent 3-2 loss to the Mariners on Sunday, whereas they were 8 for 25 the past two days.
Honestly, the point is bigger than simply the offence doing its job of scoring runs consistently and maximizing opportunities, it involves each part of the team coming through in a majority of critical situations faced. It means that starters need to minimize damage and work out of difficult situations (as Norris did so well on Tuesday), and the relievers need to strand inherited runners and stop whatever bleeding has begun. And to be thorough, we need to mention the importance of defense, which has been incredible at historic levels!
It seems obvious, and maybe I’m not being more analytical than merely drawing attention to the stuff of “no-brainer” baseball categories, but the Orioles need to play and win as a team over these final 48 games. The offense cannot be depended upon to simply outscore opponents, because good pitching does stop good hitting. But neither is the pitching the lone answer; the hitters need to find a way to score off even the best throwers in the game … and they are going to be seeing many of them.
I keep my own set of statistics that I call the “credit and blame” stats – tracking which part of the team (win or lose) deserves either the credit or the blame. Early in the season, the offense was certainly credited with the bulk of the wins, while pitching (starters or relievers) got the blame more often for losses. When each part of the team does their job, it goes down as a team win. It is interesting to see that in the current time, when the Orioles win, it is almost always a team win. I believe this demonstrates in some small way that the organization may well be putting the pieces together for another successful finish to the remaining 30% of the season.