Baltimore Orioles: 3 Keys to Winning the Yankees-Orioles-Rays AL East Battle
It seems every article written about the Baltimore Orioles this summer points to the phrase, “Buck Showalter's team is not going away."
Rightly so, much to the angst of other American League teams, Baltimore simply will not pass through the valley of postseason death.
No more talk about flaws, here we are marching toward September and the Orioles have engineered a growing sense of excitement unseen in Baltimore in years.
Past is the past. It is time to recognize that this ballclub has taken on the resolute mindset of its mastermind manager.
Present is the present. It is also time to recognize that this resilient team never quits no matter the score. Unlike past seasons, opposing teams are wise to stay on the accelerator when holding the lead.
Future is the future. It is time to recognize Baltimore has the opportunity to not only earn a wild-card spot but win the AL East.
This is a bold statement, True. Perhaps bold enough to warrant the opinion that I am off my rocker on this subject.
Fair enough, consider this: Suddenly, the New York Yankees and its battered pitching staff appear vulnerable. And the Tampa Bay Rays—despite boasting the second-best pitching staff in baseball—seem unable to score enough runs to pull away from the rest of the pack.
These two realities have opened a window for the Orioles to steal the division title.
But in order for that to happen, Baltimore must do these three things.
Take Care of Thy Selves
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The Orioles’ theme song should be Takin’ Care of Business, by Bachman and Turner.
In order for the Orioles to win the AL East, the Orioles must stay on the accelerator in four parts of the game: hitting, pitching, fielding—and chemistry.
Although the Orioles are not exactly an offensive juggernaut (.243 team batting average), they do have three hot hitters.
Fresh off a three home-run game vs. the Toronto Blue Jays, Chris Davis is batting .297 (11-for-37) with five home runs and nine RBI in the past 10 games.
J.J. Hardy, who has struggled this season, is batting .333 (13-for-39) with a homer and five RBI in the same stretch.
And Nick Markakis has been red-hot since the All-Star break. Markakis has batted .354 (56-for-158) with an OBP/SLG/OPS of .384/.509/.893. In the past 10 games, Markakis is hitting .378 (13-for-47) with six RBI.
Minus the drubbing the Orioles took vs. the Texas Rangers on August 22, Baltimore’s starting rotation has begun to solidify itself.
In the absence of Jason Hammel (who may soon return), rookie Wei-Yin Chen has held the fort in the first slot of the rotation.
While Tommy Hunter continues to struggle, Chris Tillman has been mostly impressive (6-2/3.71 ERA) since his return to the team.
Furthermore, in month of August, Miguel Gonzalez is 2-1 with a 2.42 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in four starts. And in his last two starts, a resurgent Zack Britton is 2-0 with a 1.36 ERA.
Baltimore’s relief pitchers have continued to be rock-steady, tossing a combined 3.07 ERA this season. This is sixth-best ERA in baseball and third-best in the AL.
Jim Johnson (39 saves) has not yielded an earned run since July 27 (10 appearances).
While Baltimore still struggles defensively (94 errors/.982 FPCT), Manny Machado has solidified third base since his call-up. Mark Reynolds has also made some impressive plays at first base.
Last, if there were power rankings for team chemistry, the Orioles would be ranked near the top of the league. Win or lose, this team maintains its composure and never throws one another under the bus.
If there were to be a baseball team I would want to take to battle with me, this team would be it.
Avoid Distractions from the Mission
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As the Orioles continue to impress, the national media will arrive in greater scale. Yet this should not change Baltimore’s approach to how it does business.
Baltimore must not succumb to distractions that come with being in the pressure cooker that is the AL playoff race.
Buck Showalter is just as much a genius at game preparation as AL East rivals Joe Girardi of the Yankees and Joe Maddon of the Rays.
This should help Baltimore’s ability to stay focused on the task at hand, as games become more and more meaningful down the stretch.
For a young team like Baltimore to compete with more playoff-tested teams like the Yankees and the Rays, remaining focused is crucial.
Time and time again this season, readers have seen me write that the Orioles create in me a magical feel that transcends statistics.
The same hopeful feeling I had in the spring holds true today.
This hope stems not from blind support. More so it is rooted in my watching the same Detroit Tigers franchise I rooted for as a kid climb from the ashes to go to the 2006 World Series.
True, it has been a challenge for Baltimore’s beaten and broken fanbase to let go of its doubts and believe in this team.
But it is also true that, with the Orioles’ win over the Toronto Blue Jays Saturday, Baltimore has already matched its wins total for 2011 (69).
With a 14-8 record in August, the Orioles are just 13 wins from their first winning season since 1997.
Now, with less than a week remaining until September, Baltimore trails the AL East-leading Yankees by just four games.
And with each game that passes, this knock-down, drag-out dogfight for the playoffs is growing more and more epic.
Much to the surprise of many fans, the Orioles are in the thick of this fight.
To me, this is enough to warrant belief that this once-proud ballclub is marching toward something special.