5 Reasons the Baltimore Orioles Will Pass Up the Yankees and Win the AL East
Entering this series, the Bronx Bombers and the Black and Orange split the first 14 games of the year, 7-7, and they were tied for first place in the East when the Yankees visited Camden Yards for the last time this past weekend.
The Birds jumped out to a strong start this series with a comeback win on Cal Ripken, Jr.’s special night on Thursday and they won a nail-biter on Saturday; they pulled to another tie atop the division heading into the final showdown of the regular season between these two teams.
The Orioles had a shot to win the season series and send the Yankees packing with a one-game lead if they were able to win yesterday afternoon.
However, the Bombers brought their hitting show and exploded for 13 runs as they regained a one-game lead in the East.
Currently, the Tampa Bay Rays are two games out of first place, while the Orioles sit just one under the Yankees in the illusive American League East.
Check out these five reasons why the Orioles will overtake the Yankees and win the AL East this season.
1. The Orioles Offense Is Coming Alive
They’ve already smacked 18 home runs this month (in just nine games, which ties them for the most in the AL with Texas and the second-most in the MLB behind the cross-town rival Washington Nationals, who have 24), and that is in large part due to the outburst by Mark Reynolds.
Reynolds has been on a tear as of late, as he is hitting at a respectable .323 (10-for-31) with seven home runs and 14 RBI in just nine games. Against the Yankees this year, he smacked seven of his 21 home runs and he is getting hot just when the Birds need him to
The Birds are hitting .264 as a team this month, which is good for 12th in the majors. In August, the team batted a collective .251, and in July, which is the only month the Birds have not finished over .500, they finished with just a .240 team average.
The offense has exploded for 54 runs in nine games (six runs per game), 80 base hits (8.89 hits per game) and they’ve collected 52 RBI this month (which ranks them third behind the Nats and the Twins, who both have 53 RBI).
Adam Jones is batting .333 (12-for-36) this month with three home runs and six RBI over his first nine games. Rookie newcomer Manny Machado is batting .333 as well, with one home run and four RBI. Nate McClouth is .321 with nine base hits in 28 at-bats, including four RBI.
McClouth will most likely be getting more playing time in the outfield since Nick Markakis will be out for at least six weeks after he was drilled by Sabathia on the thumb Saturday night (he broke his thumb).
The Yankees, on the other hand, have struggled a bit this month. They have only hit 10 home runs, which is definitely low for the Bronx Bombers, who have lead the MLB most of the season in home runs.
Not to mention, the Yankees are hitting just .242 so far in September, as they’ve scored 49 runs over nine games and collected 72 base hits. They’re power numbers are not horrible, but for a team with so many home run hitters, they are not producing the type of numbers New Yorkers are used to seeing this time of the year.
2. The Yankees Pitching Is Hardly Staying Afloat
Not only is the Yankees offense struggling to hit those monster home runs and produce strong power numbers, their pitching staff is suffering as well.
C.C. Sabathia made his return last week from the DL against the Rays and allowed three runs over seven innings, but pitched to a no-decision. In his outing against the Orioles on Saturday night, he surrendered five earned runs over 6.1 innings and was tagged with just his fifth loss of the year.
Even though he is back in the rotation, he is not the same type of pitcher yet. There’s no reason to think he will not regain his form, but there’s not much time left (he probably has four more starts this month).
Other than Hiroki Kuroda, who has been the Yankees' best, most consistent starting pitching this season, the rest of the pitching staff has struggled mightily this month.
Collectively, the Yankees’ pitching staff sports a 4-5 record with a 5.38 ERA, which ranks them tied for 26th in the MLB this month. They’ve allowed 46 earned runs already over just 77.0 innings of work.
The Orioles have pitched better this month, even with the 13-run rout yesterday. They sport a 5-4 record with a 4.67 ERA as they have surrendered 41 earned runs over their first 79.0 innings of work.
3. The Orioles Will Finish with a 6-Man Rotation
There is a reason Buck Showalter is one of the greatest minds in baseball. He has decided that the Orioles will go with a six-man rotation over the course of the remainder of the season.
Currently, the Orioles have Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Joe Saunders, Zach Britton, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman as the six starting pitchers.
However, Jake Arrieta, who was the opening day starting pitcher for the Birds, struggled mightily and was sent down to the minors in July; he has finally returned, but is pitching out of the pen.
Both Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter find themselves pitching out of the pen as well after they spent time in the minors for most of the second half of the year.
The Orioles have a completely revamped starting pitching staff, as Arrieta, Matusz and Hunter were all members of the rotation at the beginning of the year.
Saunders is 2-1 with a 4.24 ERA in his three starts with the Birds, and after his first outing against the White Sox when they jumped all over him (six earned runs in 5.1 innings), he’s pitched well. He tossed 5.1 innings in his last outing against the Yankees and only allowed two earned runs.
Hammel just returned from the DL, and he picked up right where he left off in July. Although he did not figure in the decision on Thursday night, he pitched well enough to win. He allowed just one earned run over five solid innings versus the Bronx Bombers.
Chen, who got rocked in the second game of the four-game set, might need an extra day to rest. He was touched up for three home runs and seven earned runs over just 4.2 innings pitched as he suffered his ninth loss of the year on Friday night.
So, I think moving to a six-man rotation and allowing an extra day off for each starting pitcher will help the Orioles in a huge way. It will allow Showalter to see who will be used as a starter and who will be used out of the rotation in the first round of the playoffs (if they are able to make it).
This is the time to take advantage of having a plethora of starting pitchers and allow some guys who have been around all year (Chen and Saunders, Hammel for the most part) to relax and pace themselves for the rest of the month.
4. Duquette Works His Magic with the Pitching Staff
Another reason why the Orioles will pass the Yankees is because of Dan Duquette, the Orioles general manager and vice president of baseball operations.
Although you rarely hear his name mentioned in the papers, unless the Birds were enduring another losing season, Duquette has done a great job this year going out and luring in talent.
Over the last month or so, he has really tried to fortify his pitching staff by adding Saunders, and most recently, veteran Randy Wolf.
Although Wolf will be used primarily out of the pen, since they have an overload of starting pitchers, he might be even more effective because of his ability to be so versatile.
So far with the Birds, he’s made it into a couple of games, both coming against the Yankees. In his first outing, he tossed 3.1 innings in relief of Tillman (who left the game due to a sore shoulder) and allowed just one earned run on three base hits.
In his second outing against the Bombers, they tagged him for three earned runs on just one base hit and two walks over 2.2 innings of work.
In his career, Wolf has put together an impressive 131-117 record with a 4.20 ERA. The 13-year vet has played for six teams, all of which were in the NL until being acquired off of waivers by the Orioles.
He posted double-digit wins in eight of those 13 seasons and won a career-best 16 games with the Phillies in 2003.
Both Wolf and Saunders have experience pitching in the postseason, and both have the ability to be leaders and help guide this young pitching staff. I think Duquette has done a great job adding pitching help when needed.
He brought over Chen from Taiwan and Tsuyoshi Wada from Japan (who never made it into an MLB game after he landed on the 60-day DL in spring training) in the offseason, as well as Hammel from the Rockies.
If the Orioles need help, Duquette is not afraid to go out there and get someone.
5. The Orioles Have the Momentum
The last reason why the Orioles will surpass the Yankees for the AL East division title is because they have the momentum on their side. They are playing so well, as they have the best record in all of baseball since July 26th. They are 25-13 since then, one game better than the Nationals.
Not to mention, the Birds have not made the playoffs since 1997, which is also the last time they won the East. This is the first time in a long time I’ve seen the Orioles play with this much enthusiasm and confidence.
It’s finally exciting to be an Orioles fan.
The Orioles have 22 games left this season and sit with 78 wins on the year. They need just three more victories to hit the .500 mark for the year and four more to ensure a winning season.
The Rays make their last visit to Camden Yards Tuesday night as they begin a three-game set before the Orioles head out West one last time. The Birds will face the Athletics, who are battling for the top Wild Card spot, this weekend.
However, after leaving Oakland, they travel to Seattle, where they should have no trouble at all. Then, they play the Red Sox, Blue Jays and the Red Sox over the next 10 games, and finish with a three-game series in Tampa Bay.
Now, the Birds have faced the Athletics twice this year and have split the series so far 3-3. In April, the Birds won the first series when the A’s were struggling, and they countered by winning the series at the end of July when the Birds were going through a rough patch. So, this series should be an interesting one and definitely has the possibly playoff ramifications.
The Birds have dominated the Mariners this season, as they took two out of three in Seattle and then swept them out of Baltimore in early August. The Orioles are 5-1 this year against the last-place Mariners and should not have any trouble.
The Birds have had the Red Sox's number all season long, as they have won nine of the 13 games between these two teams so far, and they have two series left. The Orioles should be able to win both these series.
Plus, the Birds are 9-5 against the Blue Jays and have a four-game series left in Baltimore. They should be able to win the series, and at worst, split the set.
Besides the A’s, the Rays are the team the Orioles need to focus on the rest of the month. The Black and Orange have split the season series with the Rays, as both teams have won six games with two series left to play.
Overall, the Orioles have been one of the hottest teams in the majors since the beginning of August, and they have somewhat light schedule the rest of the way. If they can continue to play well against the East teams, they should have a great shot at winning the division.
Follow me on twitter: @Alex_VanRees