After blowout, an early answer
O’s playoff push will start, and possibly end, at Camden Yards O’s follow loss Monday with 5 runs in decisive 2nd inning
It has been apparent for a while now that the 2016 season is going to come down to whether the Orioles can continue to do the one thing they have consistently all year: Win at home. The Orioles had the best home record in the majors for a big chunk of the season and still have the fourth-best mark as they look ahead to their final homestand of the season: an 11-game stretch that includes a lot of winnable games and a critical four-game series against the first-place Boston Red Sox. It begins Thursday night with the first of four games against the last-place Tampa Bay Rays and ends with three against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the team with baseball’s third-worst record.
We’ll find out tonight in Boston just how much ground the Orioles will have to make up for a run at the American League East title. It would help if Kevin Gausman can stand Orioles third baseman Manny Machado welcomes back J.J. Hardy to the dugout after the shortstop hit a three-run homer in the second inning off Boston’s Drew Pomeranz.
BOSTON — As Dylan Bundy’s pitch count has escalated recently, so have his walk totals, which has made for some unsteady sailing for the Orioles rookie right-hander over the past month.
But in a game the Orioles needed to win to remain afloat in the division race, Bundy battled through early command trouble to keep baseball’s best batting order at bay in a 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
With the win before an announced 38,041, the Orioles (79-65) picked up ground on both teams ahead of them in the American League East standings, moving into a tie for second with the Toronto Blue Jays and two games back of AL EAST W-L 81-63 79-65 79-65 77-67 Bos. Tor. O’s N.Y. GB — 2 2 4 Tonight, 7:10 TV: MASN2, ESPN Radio: 105.7 FM
up to the hot-hitting Red Sox and 20-game winner Rick Porcello, but the long weekend will have a lot to say about the way the final two weeks of the season play out.
The Red Sox will be at home for four games against the resilient New York Yankees, so the scoreboard-watching at Camden Yards will be intense.
Of course, if you’ve been paying attention to the way this Orioles team has gotten to this point in the season, you know it’s not really going to be about what the Red Sox do against the Yankees, or what the Toronto Blue Jays do against the Los Angeles Angels on a strangely scheduled West Coast trip that also takes them to Seattle next week.
The Orioles have shown throughout the season that they either do the things they do best and win or mysteriously stop doing those things and experience short bursts of total frustration. They have been uncharacteristically streaky — for a Buck Showalter team — with three seven-game winning streaks and another 8-1 run to go with four losing streaks of four or five games.
The good news is that they were solid in all three phases of the game on the first two stops of the current road trip and won each of the first two series to keep the three-team race in the division standings tight.
Monday night’s lopsided loss to the Red Sox was disappointing but not unexpected, considering the Orioles sent struggling left-hander Wade Miley to the mound against Boston ace David Price at a time when Price is pitching as well as he ever has. Miley collapsed immediately, and Price gave up two hits over eight innings for a personal-best seventh victory in his last seven starts. It wasn’t exactly a missed opportunity.
It might have been Miley’s last opportunity to start a game for the Orioles this season, however. He’s now 1-5 with an 8.41 ERA in eight starts since he was acquired from the Seattle Mariners at the midseason trade deadline, pitching well in just three of those games. The resurgence of Ubaldo Jimenez and the return of Chris Tillman from injury give Showalter five capable starting pitchers, and Miley’s career splits are ugly against each of the club’s remaining opponents — except the Rays.
What it will require to overtake the Red Sox is fairly obvious. The Orioles will need to take full advantage of this well-placed 11-game homestand and send all those irritating Red Sox fans home without their supper next week. Orioles manager Buck Showalter has presided over an uncharacteristically streaky team this season, with three seven-game winning streaks and another 8-1 run.
Obviously, that doesn’t mean winning all 11 games, but it does mean winning all three series. If they can’t win the series against the cellar-dwelling Rays and the Diamondbacks, they’ve answered their own question. But it will be their head-to-head performance against the Red Sox that likely will decide whether the Orioles still have a real chance at the division title when they head out for their season-ending six-game road trip to Toronto and New York.
If they can go at least 7-4 on the homestand, they should solidify their position as one of the two AL wild-card teams, at worst. If they can roll over the Rays and win three of four against the Red Sox, they will have a real shot at the division title with the Blue Jays and Red Sox going head to head on the final weekend of the regular season.
Count your blessings. If you listened to the so-called experts last spring, the Orioles were supposed to be playing the spoiler by now.