Baltimore Orioles Pull Even with New York Yankees for First Place Tie in AL East

Mark F. Gray@@thesportsgrooveContributor ISeptember 5, 2012

Mark Reynolds 17th home run led the Orioles to a 12-0 win at Toronto and a share of the lead in the AL East.
Mark Reynolds 17th home run led the Orioles to a 12-0 win at Toronto and a share of the lead in the AL East.Brad White/Getty Images

For the first time since 1997, the Baltimore Orioles find themselves atop the American League East in September.  

A 12-0 rout of the Toronto Blue Jays coupled with the Tampa Bay Rays' 5-2 win over the New York Yankees has put them in a tie with bombers atop the division. Suddenly, winning the AL East has become a reality.

Those who remember the glory years when the Orioles routinely played their best baseball after the All-Star break are experiencing déjà vu.  

The defensive issues that plagued them in the first half of the season are no more.  Their questionable starting pitchers have produced back-to-back shutouts in Toronto. Their offense, which has been inconsistent all season, went hitless for five innings then erupted to score 12 runs against the Blue Jays.

Baltimore’s charge to the top of the division has been buoyed by their dominance of it.  The Orioles are 30-21 versus the AL East, and after winning their last two series in New York and Toronto they are 18-11 on the road.  They have lost just eight of their last 29 games and lead the American League with 39 wins away from Camden Yards.

However, the most amazing aspect of the charge to the top of the AL east is that they have caught the Yankees in just over a month.  On July 18, the Orioles were 47-44 and trailed New York by 10 games in the toughest division in baseball. Since then, Baltimore is 29-15 and their 21-10 mark since August 1 is the best in baseball.

The Orioles have bludgeoned Toronto by an aggregate score of 16-0 in the first two games of this series.  Mark Reynolds and Nick Markakis have found their stroke offensively and have been the catalysts to this late-season surge. 

Reynolds was hovering near the Mendoza line and was considered a candidate to be released around the trade deadline.  Buck Showalter’s patience has been rewarded as Reynolds is batting .301 and has hit nine of his 17 home runs with 21 RBI since July 30.  The Orioles' first baseman is in the midst of a terrific stretch where he has hit five homers in his last five games.

Markakis, who has battled injuries for most of the season, is finally rounding into form.  With three more hits against the Blue Jays he now leads the team with a .304 average.  His 72 hits leads the majors since the All-Star break and is hitting .358 with three home runs and 21 RBI.

The albatross that was the starting pitchers have suddenly become rock solid. This evolving rotation has settled and is remarkably consistent.  Joe Saunders and Zach Britton gave the Orioles consecutive shutout performances in Toronto.  Their starter’s ERA has dropped from 4.15 to 3.87 in the second half of the season. 

Baltimore will try to sweep the Blue Jays Wednesday night before coming home to face the Yankees in the biggest weekend series at Camden Yards since 1997 starting Thursday.