Baltimore Orioles: 10 Things They Must Do to Catch the Yankees
And even with that, the O's still find themselves seven games behind the Evil Empire.
So this catching the Yankees business? Uhh yeah. Not going to be easy.
Even if it's a small one, here are 10 things the Orioles can do to increase that chance.
1. Play Better at Home
The Orioles home record currently stands at a pedestrian 23-22 on the year. Out of all the teams who currently reside in the top three of each division, only the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians carry a worse home mark.
Heck, even the Astros have a better home record.
Perhaps the fanbase is partially to blame. However, I've been to Camden Yards during thoroughly rotten seasons, and still been impressed by the fans. The upcoming six-game homestand should have the crowds out in full force.
That means it's time for the team to come through. If the Birds want to be serious challengers to the Yankees' throne, then they must protect their house.
2. Remain Clutch
The Orioles are an astounding 10-2 in extra inning games this season. Call it luck, destiny or just simply clutch—whatever it may be—it must continue.
Think of it this way. An extra inning game is virtually a toss up. Perhaps the home team has a slight edge, but for now, let's call it 50/50.
That means the Orioles should be approximately 6-6 over the course of their 12 extra inning ballgames.
Under this scenario, the club's current record would stand at 47-49—good enough for last place in the division—and thereby nullifying the existence of this article.
However this article does exist, the Oriole magic does exist, and their extra-inning winning (I like the ring of that) must not cease in order to make a viable pursuit of the Yankees.
3. Take Advantage of the Schedule
In what could spark the beginning of a crucial stretch run for the Orioles, the Birds play a 10-game set of relatively winnable games from August 3rd to August 12th.
The Rays have been slumping as of late, and the three teams have a combined record of 131-156.
Bottom line is, the Orioles must take advantage of this stretch if they want to make any noise come September.
4. Beat the Yankees
Quick. What's the fastest way to gain ground on any opposing team? The answer is simply: to win your games, and wait for your selected opponent to lose.
And what is the most efficient way of accomplishing this?
Beating the selected opponent yourself, of course.
So naturally, if the Orioles want to have any chance at capturing the AL East crown, they must take down the Yankees themselves.
The O's and the Yanks are scheduled to play 10 more games this year, six in New York and four in Baltimore.
For the Orioles to make a run at the division, they will almost certainly need to win at least seven of those games.
Perhaps they should be reviewing tape from the recent Athletics-Yankees series this weekend.
5. Receive Continued Stability from the Young Starters
When Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta were sent to the minors, and Jason Hammel tore his meniscus, it looked like the heart-rate monitor on the Orioles' postseason life had reached zero.
Until it was revived.
A spark from three young arms, Chris Tillman (1.15 ERA), Miguel Gonzalez (2.61 ERA) and Zach Britton (3.60 ERA) has kept the Orioles' playoffs hopes alive through the dog days of summer.
As of yesterday, the Birds were in the midst of a stretch of six-consecutive quality starts, which undoubtedly was a direct factor in the Orioles coming out on top in five of those games.
For the winning ways to continue, the young arms must continue to flourish.
6. Make a Move for a Starting Pitcher
Despite the current success of the Orioles' promising young arms, any reasonable fan cannot expect a starting rotation of Wei-Yin Chen, Tommy Hunter, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Tillman, and Zach Britton to sustain the Orioles throughout September.
Subsequently, the Orioles must push to get an additional arm for their staff before the trade deadline.
Zack Greinke headlines this breakdown of possible targets.
7. See the Return of a Healthy Jason Hammel
Remember the important stretch run for the O's that I highlighted?
It would sure help to have staff ace Jason Hammel return for that challenging stretch, and he is currently on track to return in mid-August.
As long as he comes back healthy, you can't beat that timing.
8. Increase Plate Discipline
Orioles GM Dan Duquette has been focusing on landing a hitter with a high on-base percentage, and his exploits are well justified.
The Orioles lead the American League in double plays, are second in batter strikeouts, and rank third last in on-base percentage.
Reason being, is that the Orioles lineup has been built with too many swing-for-the-fences type players. In order to beat a top-tier starter (think, CC Sabathia) the O's hitters must start taking a better approach at the plate. This can be accomplished by being patient and more selective. Patience leads to taking more pitches, drawing more walks, and thereby increasing that ever-telling on-base percentage number.
9. Ignite the Bat of J.J. Hardy
J.J. Hardy is the type of hitter who when he gets hot, boy, can he get hot.
And on the flip side, when he's cold, well it's ice cold.
We've seen ice cold for most of the season (.220 BA) including a recent 1-for-29 stretch before the All-Star break.
Lately though, J.J has quietly put together a six-game hitting streak and even tossed in his first home run since June 28th, on Sunday.
Here's to the red-hot J.J. Hardy to arrive shortly, and I have a feeling he just might.
10. Get Lucky
Let's face it. The Yankees, well, they're still the damn Yankees, and no matter how you slice it, the Orioles are certainly a long shot to overtake them by September.
In order to capture the American League East crown, the Orioles are going to need some luck along the way.
I'm talking 10-2 in extra inning games type luck, the magic of Buck Showalter in his second full season with a team, and a lot more of this.
So yeah, I'm telling you there's a chance.