The Orioles’ Wei-Yin Chen delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Photo: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
A glance back at the blog entry I wrote last week reveals not much has changed. In spite of troublesome warning signs, the Baltimore Orioles are winning games. Try 13 of the last 17.
Between the weekend series at Tampa Bay and today’s win at Fenway, Oriole defensive lapses have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. It has been easy to get the impression the club was relaxing with the division title seemingly well in hand. You might think part of the reason for an usual number of errors over the past few weeks has been September call-ups who almost never play together getting playing time.
Oddly enough, though, the errors weren’t made by players who had been with Norfolk all year. Ryan Flaherty, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Jones, and David Lough were as responsible as anyone. The confusion between Alejandro De Aza and Quintin Berry in the outfield today resulted in an out being made, but a very interesting out. Other examples were two errors by Flaherty this past weekend. and a collision between Lough and De Aza in left field that almost took De Aza’s arm off and allowed an inside-the-park home run.
Kelly Johnson backed up a silly throwing error by Schoop Tuesday night and threw a runner out at home, so the Orioles got away with one there.
Flaherty went out and got four hits today, redeeming himself somewhat. But I don’t think there’s much disagreement that J.J. Hardy‘s defense is one of the keys to the team, and that shortstop is not the place for a player most known for his versatility.
What, then, is to account for the recent 13-4 stretch? One, the 11-game homestand over which the Orioles went 9-2. Two, the fact that the 11 straight home games were against Tampa Bay, Minnesota and Cincinnati. Three, a starting staff ERA of 1.70 over nine of those 13 games. Wei-Yin Chen retired the first 16 batters he faced today and went seven innings, giving up a run on three hits.
Together with all that, the Orioles have gotten enough offense, including Nelson Cruz‘s 7-RBI day on Sunday, to cover up for what went wrong in the field and on the mound, with Joe Saunders giving up five runs in the 9th today and making it a little too interesting.
Here’s something else interesting. The 17 games left in the season are all against the AL East. The Yankees visit Camden Yards for four this weekend starting with a day-night doubleheader Friday, then the Blue Jays and Red Sox make appearances next week. Edwin Encarnacion has been back for almost a month, and though the Jays trail the Orioles by 10 games, I haven’t stopped thinking things will get a little closer over the final two weeks.
With the magic number being 8 after today’s win, there is a wave of optimism saying the Orioles will clinch during this homestand – and what a sight for sore eyes that would be. The long-deprived fan base, after all, includes yours truly. The focus would turn to liberal substituting, lineups full of call-ups and non-regulars, and making sure players with banged up bodies are rested both mentally and physically for the playoffs.
Kevin Gausman and Bud Norris are reported to be Friday’s starters, followed by Miguel Gonzalez Saturday afternoon on Fox, and Chris Tillman in Sunday night’s ESPN game. Masahiro Tanaka will not be ready to pitch for the Yankees for a while, as he is throwing an Instructional League game in Tampa on Monday. New York’s final homestand, the last seven games of the season against the Orioles and Jays, might be the next time he takes the mound.
His and Encarnacion’s absences certainly had much to do with the second half fades of their teams. But the Orioles played the entire second half without Matt Wieters, and most of it without Manny Machado.