The top three teams of the AL West (Athletics, Angels, Mariners) currently hold an astounding league-leading plus-312 run differential to go along with a league-best 98-67 home record in comparison to every other division’s top three teams. However, if those statistics were supposed to be daunting to the O’s, then perhaps someone forgot to mention it. The AL East leading Baltimore Orioles are standing toe-to-toe in a 16-game standoff with three of the AL’s top teams in an attempt to prove their mettle, and so far, they are still standing.
The top three of the AL-West has certainly become a force to be reckoned with this season. The Oakland Athletics currently hold an MLB-best record of 65-39 and post a ridiculous plus-170 run-differential. The Los Angeles Angels are hot on their trail posting an MLB-second-best record and now sit just two games behind the A’s. The Seattle Mariners have dropped seven of their last ten since the All-Star break and are currently a game and a half out of the second AL Wild Card spot, but with arguably the best pitcher in the entire American League, along with the recent acquisition of Kendrys Morales, the team hopes it will right the ship soon and claw its way back into the AL playoff picture.
The 16-game face off with the AL West would begin with a 10-game road trip beginning in Oakland. The O’s got the first taste of what a playoff series versus the A’s would look like after Oakland recently traded for starting pitchers Jeff Samardizija and Jason Hammel, improving an already terrific starting rotation. In their first game against Oakland’s newest ace, Jeff Samardizija, the Orioles were up two runs heading into the ninth inning. Unfortunately, in a rare blown save this season by Zach Britton, Baltimore lost after giving up a walk-off three-run shot to the A’s Josh Donaldson. In their second game of the series, Baltimore pounced early and forced Jason Hammel out of the game after just two frames into his home debut. They went on to coast to an easy 8-4 victory. The rubber match of this series went by way of the Oakland A’s and their 24-year-old righty, Sonny Gray. Nothing was working for the Orioles in that game and they got sloppily trounced by a score of 10-2.
After losing a series against the MLB’s-best team in a fashion as tough as that, the O’s would have to remain focused as they would travel to Anaheim to face the league’s next best team. In their first two games of this series, it was all about pitching and timely hitting. In the opening game, it was Bud Norris’ dominant return to the rotation and Adam Jones’ two home runs that helped propel the O’s to a 4-2 victory. In the second game, pitcher Miguel Gonzales, who also was returning to the rotation after a start in the minors, was as equally dominant as Norris. Giving up just two runs in 7 2/3 innings, Gonzales and the O’s nabbed another 4-2 victory. In their final game of the series, it was the bullpen who faltered as they gave up another late rally to lose the final game by a score of 3-2.
After yet again another heart-breaking defeat to close out a series, the O’s were heading to Seattle to face off against Cy Young award-winning Felix Hernandez and the playoff contending Mariners. In their first game, the Orioles did not take long to get back on track. Behind an almost unhittable Wei-Yin Chen, Baltimore cruised to a 4-0 victory. Facing “King” Felix Hernandez in the team’s second game of their four game series with the Mariners, Hernandez made history by becoming the second pitcher since the year 1900 to go 13 consecutive starts and pitch seven or more innings while allowing two or fewer runs. Given that history, fans would have expected the Mariners to have had won the game, but the young gun in Kevin Gausman stood toe-to-toe with the “King” and the Orioles pulled out a late tenth inning victory thanks to a leadoff Chris Davis home run. Baltimore split the final two games of the series, which included an extra-innings victory before heading back home.
The headlines after this road trip were supposed to be reading of how much Baltimore needs to acquire starting pitching before the trade deadline and how the powerful bats of the Orioles could not mask the problems of the rotation any longer. However, since the All-Star break, the story of the O’s second half is beginning with a surprise twist: the huge success and confidence being built through their starting pitching.
Over this 10-game road trip, Baltimore’s starting pitching posted a combined 2.94 ERA against the league’s best division. Facing the Oakland A’s, the Orioles stood face-to-face with the best team in baseball and did not blink. Versus the league’s next best, the O’s starting pitching quieted the strongest bats in all the American League and won a rare road series in Anaheim, snapping the Halo’s ten-consecutive home-series win streak. Facing the AL-West’s third best Seattle Mariners, including Friday night’s game versus AL Cy Young hopeful Felix Hernandez, it was the O’s youngster and bullpen pitching who out dueled the “King” and got the job done yet again. The 16-game standoff with the AL-West is a little more than half way done with and the O’s blew two opportunities to have gone 8-2 on this trip, but with every win and every loss, the team is growing more and more confident.
The team could have hung its head and sulked over their two blown late leads, but instead they are learning and improving from their mistakes and missed opportunities. Winning six of ten on the road while facing the caliber of teams like the ones the Orioles had to face is no easy task to accomplish. There is still six games remaining in this AL West showdown, but as of right now, Baltimore is proving their mettle and their right to be in consideration for the AL crown this year.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Guardian Liberty Voice Sports Writer Covering the Baltimore Orioles