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

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Sch­muck By Ed­uardo A. Encina

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.

CHARLES KRUPA/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PA­TRICK SE­MAN­SKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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