In a strange Baltimore Orioles win, warning signs present themselves


Alejandro De Aza hits an infield single in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds Tuesday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Photo: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

It was one of the most unconventional ways the Baltimore Orioles have ever begun or ended a game, but it got the job done. Coming on a night of a Yankee loss to Boston, last night’s win – which got more interesting than anybody cared to see it get – pushed the lead over the Yankees to 9 1/2 games and reduced the Magic Number to 17. That is, if you like thinking about magic numbers this early.

Tonight, the Orioles got enough runs quickly and were able to hold on. But even in the process of going 23 games over .500 and having the largest lead of any division leader in baseball, concerns have cropped up. Even in the process of trading for Alejandro De Aza, and adding more speed to the postseason roster in the person of Quintin Berry and Jimmy Paredes, third base has already started to revert to the pre-Manny days of sticking out like a sore thumb. The left field situation is similar.

Paredes, even though his bat provided a huge boost in Saturday night’s win, has rough edges in his defensive game. Kelly Johnson, who also arrived in the De Aza trade, asked to play third late in tonight’s game, also let one get by. The furthest thing from anybody’s mind was that any backup third baseman would be in Machado’s league defensively. The deals made at the trade deadline and the September call-ups have added depth at all the infield positions.

But it is a defensive dropoff, and that results in an opposing hit that should have been an out, a baserunner who shouldn’t have been there, a runner on second or third who should have been held at first, more pitches needed to get out of an inning, an early exit for the starter, and a fried bullpen. It’s the reason Andrew Miller was acquired for late-inning relief help.

Little things add up, and it could cost a game here or there

But it’s living the old way. It led indirectly to

Jay Bruce

‘s grand slam off

Darren O’Day

in the 8th inning last night, even though

Zach Britton

held the fort after that.

Little things add up, and that has the potential to cost a game here or there, show up in the won-lost record, and translate into losing home field to the L.A. Angels — or just losing the playoffs and seeing the dream season end.

Until then, don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying it’s stupid to watch the dream keep unfolding. I’m just pointing to warning signs. The Orioles are 80-57, the only team other than the Angels with 80 or more victories. There are 25 games left, and going only 15-10 gets them to 95. It continues to astonish me the Orioles have achieved what they have without Wieters, without Machado for chunks of the year, including the rest of it, and with Chris Davis hitting well under .200 since late July.

When Steve Pearce comes back from his strained abdominal muscle, he goes back to first base, returning Davis to third, which had recently started to look like an acceptable arrangement. Having to live like that the rest of the way might mean not having to look away from the screen when grounders are hit to third.