MLB Predictions: Why the Orioles Will Overtake the Yankees for Division Title

Jack Owens@@jackjowensCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2012

MLB Predictions: Why the Orioles Will Overtake the Yankees for Division Title

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    After getting win 62 of the season Sunday vs. the Royals, the surprising Baltimore Orioles remain in the thick of the AL wild-card race and 5.5 games back of the AL East leading New York Yankees.  

    Coming off a loss to the last place Blue Jays where starter Phil Hughes gave up seven runs, the Yankees have a few concerns as they host the AL West leading Texas Rangers for a critical four game series starting Monday.

    They may be without their best starter for an extended period of time, and the Orioles, with clutch play all season and an impressive 22-6 record in one-run games, refuse to fade down the stretch.

    There is something about this team, a certain "Oriole Magic" as the stadium scoreboard managers like to point out.

    Its time this magic makes a believer out of the baseball world. The Orioles did the unthinkable staying in the race this long, and no one ever thought they would be relevant in August.

    But they are, and now is the time they finally be taken seriously. Skeptics point to their negative run differential as a sure sign their winning days are limited, but Baltimore keeps proving that theory wrong as well.

    As David Schoenfield of ESPN.com writes on predicting the remainder of the major league season and which team is destined for success: "Something always happens we haven't seen before. Maybe the 2012 Orioles will be that team."

    This is why the Orioles will be that team, and overtake the Yankees for the division lead.

Yankees No. 1 Starter Is Headed to Disabled List

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    The winner of that Rangers and Yankees series will have the best record in the American League, but the Yankees will be without their ace, CC Sabathia, who is experiencing soreness in his throwing elbow.

    Manager Joe Girardi will have to be cautious dealing with Sabathia, who is essential for the team’s postseason success.

    Sabathia has been carrying the Yankees' pitching staff, and with him headed to the 15-day disabled list, the team should struggle to keep games low scoring.

    The Orioles, on the other hand, will be getting their ace back for the first time since early July.

Jason Hammel Returns to the Starting Rotation

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    Recovered from July 16 knee surgery, Jason Hammel re-joined the Orioles on Saturday and began throwing off a mound the same day.

    Many thought the Orioles would begin their typical midseason slide once Hammel hit the disabled list, but the team has exceeded expectations without their number one starter.

    Hammel may be the scheduled starter as early as Friday, August 17, against the Detroit Tigers. At one point in the running to start for the AL All-Star team, Hammel cooled off from a 7-2 record to a more human 8-6. Hammel, nonetheless, maintained a strong 3.54 ERA and remains second on the Orioles with 106 strikeouts.

Oriole Pitching Has Exceeded Expectations

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    Hammel’s return bumps everyone down in a rotation that has excelled of late. Twenty-eight-year-old rookie Miguel Gonzalez and right-handed pitcher Chris Tillman, the other half of the Adam Jones deal the Orioles received for sending Erik Bedard to Seattle, have turned in strong start after strong start.

    Both have shown the ability to go deep in games, and though neither has recorded a complete game or a shutout, both have come close. Gonzalez is coming off eight innings of one run ball against the Knsas City Royals, where he struck out five and looked solid throwing his fastball, changeup, and sinker effectively.

    Tillman was hit hard in his last start, giving up six runs, but he still leads Oriole starting pitchers with a 3.40 ERA.

    Along with the dependability of Tommy Hunter and Wei Yen Chen, the Orioles five-man rotation is much better than people think. Chen leads the team in wins (10) and strikeouts (114) by relying on a pinpoint accurate 92 mph fastball.

    If the Orioles starters continue their success, they will be able to turn it over to setup man Pedro Strop and closer Jim Johnson, two of the best in the majors out of a strong Baltimore bullpen.

Manny Machado Has Entered the MLB World

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    The real reason for Orioles optimism is not Hammel, or surprising pitching, but the entrance of the organization’s top position prospect Manny Machado into the starting lineup.

    Machado, 20, has already impressed his fellow players and the fans with three home runs in four games and a triple in his first major league hit.

    In a Camden Yards ballpark where triples are especially rare, Machado’s triple proves he not only adds power and much needed defensive help at third base to the team, but speed as well. 

    With Machado’s strong play at third and the excitement fans feel every time he steps to the plate, Machado has drawn comparisons to current Yankees third basemen Alex Rodriguez.

    Machado is a huge boost to an Orioles lineup that has been strong of late. With Nick Markakis’ bat heating up, Adam Jones continuing his best season as a pro, and Mark Reynolds looking to improve on his uncharacteristically low nine home runs this season, this Orioles offense is ready to surge for the rest of August and September.

Late Season Success Under Buck Showalter

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    On August 12, 2011, the Orioles stood firmly in the basement of the AL East with a 45-71 record. Despite this poor record, the Orioles did not throw in the towel late, ending the year with 24-22 mark despite a difficult schedule to improve to 69-93 on the year.

    Showalter long has had the respect of his ballclub. In turning around an organization stuck in its losing ways, Showalter is certainly deserving of manager of the year.

    In the midst of 15 straight losing seasons in Baltimore, Showalter has put fans back in the stands and a reason for Baltimore not to turn its attention to the Ravens as has been customary for years.

    With 47 games remaining on the schedule, and two series against the Yankees, the Orioles need 28 wins to reach the total of 90 it would likely take to make the postseason.

    This is an attainable feat, and one I see the Orioles achieving.

    Look for the Orioles to continue their winning ways, and bring the bitter Baltimore fanbase a much deserved trip to the playoffs.