Nolan Reimold rounds the bases after homering in the Orioles 6-5 victory over the Red Sox.
The Baltimore Orioles have not had a lot to play for in recent months. The Birds got off to a promising start in April, but the season quickly soured for Buck Showalter's team. It seems the team would limp to the finish without much reason to fight on.
That has changed thanks to the Red Sox's monumental collapse.
A 4-14 start to September has guaranteed the Red Sox will spend the last nine games of the season battling the Rays for their postseason lives.
Six of those nine games will be against the Orioles. This gives new meaning to the Orioles season. The Orioles are well suited to play the role of spoiler. They are a young team with nothing to lose. The Red Sox are the ones facing enormous pressure to win.
Spoiling the postseason hopes of the mighty Red Sox would provide an excellent end to the Orioles season. It would boost the confidence of a young roster and ease the sting of a 14th consecutive losing season in Baltimore.
It will not be easy for the Orioles to foil Boston's postseason hopes, but it can be done.
The Orioles pitching staff has had a hard time throwing strikes at times this year. They rank in the bottom half of the league in walks allowed with 496.
A high walk rate is only one reason Orioles pitchers have been the worst in the league when it comes to ERA. The Orioles patchwork rotation is made up nearly entirely of youngsters or reclamation projects. It is easy to see why they have struggled to throw strikes.
Walks are not the only negative to come out of an inability to throw strikes. Falling behind a hitter can be just as disastrous. Orioles pitchers have fallen behind hitters far too often to be successful.
If the Orioles starting rotation is to keep them in the game against Boston, they will need to get ahead in the count. Too many 3-1 counts will all but assure Boston batters of getting a fat pitch to hit.
If the starting rotation does not throw strikes, the Orioles will not be able to keep the potent Red Sox offense in check and spoil their season.
After Orioles relief pitcher Kevin Gregg rumbled with Red Sox DH David Ortiz on July 8, the fiery reliever had this to say:
"I think you show them that we're not backing down. We're not scared of them—them and their $180 million payroll. We don't care. We're here to play the game. We have just as much right to play the game here, and we're going to do everything we can to win."
The Orioles have made it clear all year that they are not going to be intimidated by better teams. Baltimore needs to come ready to match the intensity the Red Sox will surely have.
The young Orioles roster could actually help them with this. Their young enthusiasm and confidence will not allow them to be intimidated by the Red Sox.
Orioles pitchers must follow Kevin Gregg's example. They must have the confidence to challenge Red Sox hitters.
Offense has not been the problem for the Orioles this season. They have slugged the ball fairly well and have four hitters with over 20 home runs.
In the opening game of today's double header, the Orioles hit three home runs and won 6-5. Baltimore is not a team that is going to hit for a high average. They will, however, hit more than their fair share of home runs.
JJ Hardy, Mark Reynolds and Adam Jones have provided the power to keep the Orioles in games this year. Matt Weiters and Nolan Reimold are another pair of big boppers whose continued development has Orioles fans excited.
Swinging for the fences may not result in a lot of singles for the Orioles. The home run has kept the Orioles offense afloat in 2011, and it could be enough to sink the Red Sox.
With the exception of Mark Reynolds, the Orioles defense has been solid all around this season. They are solid up the middle with JJ Hardy, Robert Andino and Adam Jones. Nick Markakis has played errorless defense in right field and has 14 outfield assists.
The Orioles cannot afford to give the Red Sox extra outs due to errors. Their fielders must make the plays they are expected to make.
Giving the Red Sox extra chances to score will all but assure Red Sox nation marches on to the playoffs.
The best way to demoralize a team is to come out firing and put runs on the board in the first few innings. In their 6-5 victory this afternoon, the Orioles scored five runs by the end of the fourth inning.
Scoring early allows a team to put extra pressure on their opponent. The Red Sox will be feeling plenty of pressure without the Orioles heaping a little extra on. Falling behind early will get the denizens of Fenway Park in a tizzy and could spell disaster as the Sox start to panic.
The Orioles also need to score early because the Red Sox bullpen has been solid all year. Their starting rotation is what has done them in. The Orioles' best chance to score will be before Daniel Bard and Johnathan Papelbon start getting loose in the bullpen.