Aug 27, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce (28) stretches for the force out of Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Vince Belnome (30) during the seventh inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Tampa Bay Rays defeated Baltimore Orioles 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
As the Orioles close-in on the postseason, standing eight games ahead of the second-place New York Yankees in the AL East, here are three keys to this team maximizing their potential and making a deep playoff run.
Since the All-Star Break, Orioles starting pitchers have posted a 3.28 ERA, good enough for sixth-best in the American League. Before the break, starters pitched to a 4.09 ERA, which was 11th in the league. The Orioles record before the All-Star Break was 52-42 (.553). After the break it was 26-14 (.650). Coincidence? Probably not.
For the Orioles to have success in the playoffs, starters like Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, and Bud Norris must continue to give the Orioles a chance to win in every game. There are no Felix Hernandez or Clayton Kershaw-esque talents on this team, so winning a 1-0 game is unlikely. However, if Orioles pitchers can keep the team competitive, allowing the bats to make the difference and win the game with four or five runs, they would be doing an adequate job.
Steve Pearce has become a key player for the Orioles as injuries and lack of production on the field have forced him into the lineup at various points this season. With the most recent injury to Manny Machado, Pearce and slugger Chris Davis have shouldered the biggest responsibility for picking up the slack the superstar talent has left. With Davis moving to third to fill-in for Machado, Pearce has played an impressive first base, picking balls out of the dirt and making more than just routine plays. Pearce’s bat has also been one of the best on the team in the last 30 days, leading active Orioles in OPS (.928). An MRI revealed yesterday that an injury to Pearce’s midsection is not serious and he is considered day-to-day after missing Saturday and Sunday’s games.
The Baltimore bullpen has been one of the best pieces of the Oriole machine this year, despite some shaky ninth performances before Zach Britton was named the closer. Oriole relievers have pitched 427 innings before today’s game, eighth most in the majors. Their ERA is 3.03, which is also eighth in the majors. However, some of the individual pieces are what makes this unit special. Darren O’Day has the second-best ERA (0.91) of any MLB reliever who has pitched more than 20 innings. Zach Britton also maintains a ridiculously low ERA (1.92), has logged more than 30 saves, and induces ground balls at a 77% rate. With tools like O’Day and Britton, as well as longman Brad Brach and big lefty Andrew Miller, there are several capable pitchers the Orioles can turn to to help win closely contested, high-intensity playoff games.