Are the O's Playing the Best Ball in the Majors?
After dropping the 2011 road finale in Detroit, the Orioles are 67-92 on the year, guaranteeing a better record in 2011 than 2010.
What's more impressive is that the O's seemed destined to join the Astros in the Hall of Shame just a few weeks ago when they were on pace to eclipse the 100-loss mark.
The turnaround in September is a sight for sore eyes as the Orioles have pushed out of last place in the American League. The draft order is beginning to shape up at the top as the Astros secured the top pick followed by the Twins.
The current order has the Mariners next and then Baltimore, but could change in the remaining three games.
As great as it is that the Orioles started winning in September, what does it mean? Are they showing progress and actually playing their best baseball in the final month or have they just provided a small surge that doesn't compare to their previous accomplishments.
In my eyes, despite the fact that the playoffs have been out of reach for a while, the Orioles are playing their best, most entertaining baseball right now as they close out the year.
The record says a lot about the quality of the team and it favors September so far. Even if the Orioles get swept in the final three against the Red Sox, September would still be in the top two best months of the year.
At this point, they are a game above .500, a number that most Orioles fans love to bring up because the O's have not reached that mark for a full season in 14 years. They have also never reached that mark for a single month in 2011, coming close only in April when they finished 12-13.
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Beyond just the record is the quality of the teams that they are facing and the pressure on those teams. The key series of the month have come against the Yankees, Rays, Angels, Red Sox and Tigers, all of whom are pushing for postseason position.
The Yankees were still fighting to hold onto first and trying to lock up home field advantage when they played four games against the Orioles from September 5-8.
The Orioles dropped the first two, but picked up extra inning wins in New York and Baltimore in the next two games to split the series against the American League's best team.
Baltimore faced off against the Tampa Bay Rays, who are rocketing up at the Wild Card, one week later and the results were more impressive, taking two out of three. The Angels were next and in the same position, but the Orioles handed them the same fate.
In what might have been the most powerful series victory of the year, the Orioles went to Boston in hopes of spoiling their Wild Card hopes. The Orioles managed to take three out of four, winning their first four game series in Boston since 2003.
The O's finished their reign of terror with a series split against the Tigers, going 2-2. The Tigers now face being the worst division winner if they can't recover in their next series.
September is also a month for evaluation and several players are asserting their status as "nuggets" for Buck Showalter.
Mark Reynolds has flipped his season from error-heavy third baseman who strikes out a lot to powerhouse first baseman that could radically improve the defense of the right side of the infield.
Jim Johnson has shown that he can handle the closing duties as he has stepped in for Kevin Gregg and shut down opposing hitters, drawing heavy notice in the series against the Red Sox for his terrific slider and ability to get the ball on the ground.
Matt Wieters is looking like the offensive force that people expected, with an .836 OPS in the final month and five homers, bringing him above 20 for the first time in his career.
Other standouts in September include J.J. Hardy, Pedro Strop and Robert Andino.
This month has been great for the Orioles in exposing holes on the team that will be filled in the off season and finding who can stick with the club, so as single-time periods go, it seems to me that the Orioles are playing their best baseball right now.
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