Home stretch should give O’s boost in wild chase

Ori­oles play 16 of next 19 games at Cam­den Yards to start run against con­tenders

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Ed­uardo A. Encina

SEAT­TLE – Though the Ori­oles were dis­ap­pointed in the re­sults of their just­com­pleted West Coast trip, they re­turned to Bal­ti­more still very much in the thick of the wild-card race.

Lit­tle has sorted it­self out since the Ori­oles trav­eled across the coun­try. They left home 21⁄ games out of the Amer­i­can League’s sec­ond wild-card spot and de­spite a 4-6 road trip, they re­turn just three games out.

Now they will be­gin a key stretch of their sched­ule that could end up defin­ing their sea­son, though ini­tially they will have the ben­e­fit of play­ing16 of their next19 games at Cam­den Yards.

“We’re headed back to Bal­ti­more,” Ori­oles man­ager Buck Showal­ter said af­ter the 105.7 FM

AL wild-card stand­ings

Team W-L Pct. GB Yan­kees 65-55 .542 +3.5 An­gels 62-59 .512 — Roy­als 61-59 .508 0.5 Twins 60-59 .504 1 Mariners 61-61 .500 1 Rangers* 59-60 .496 2.5 Rays 60-63 .488 3 Ori­oles 59-62 .488 3 Blue Jays 59-62 .488 3 Note: Top two teams qual­ify * late game not in­cluded team’s 7-6 loss to the Seat­tle Mariners on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon. “It’s been a long trip. We have a chance to roll the dice the last six weeks and that’s what we hope to do — com­pete with a chance to play in Oc­to­ber. We’re still en­gaged in it.”

The Ori­oles’ next nine home games will be against the same teams they strug­gled

against out west, start­ing with the Los An­ge­les An­gels and Oakland Ath­let­ics on their up­com­ing six-game home­s­tand. Af­ter a brief three-game se­ries in Bos­ton, the Ori­oles (59-62) host the Mariners, who they just dropped two of three against at Safeco Field.

“Yeah, this def­i­nitely was a long road trip, a tough road trip, and we’re def­i­nitely ex­cited to be [go­ing] home where we’re com­fort­able,” out­fielder Craig Gen­try said af­ter Wed­nes­day’s loss. “We’ll have an off day to­mor­row and hope­fully we can fin­ish out this thing strong.”

With the stand­ings where they are, it will be im­por­tant to play well, es­pe­cially since both the An­gels and Mariners sit ahead of the Ori­oles in the wild-card race. This will be the Ori­oles’ only re­main­ing op­por­tu­nity to gain head-to-head ground on them.

The road trip is “over with and got to get ready be­cause we’re get­ting these same teams com­ing in here next week and we have to take care of busi­ness,” catcher Caleb Joseph said. “We can’t let those games slip away like we did this past week.”

The Ori­oles have played well at home this sea­son, post­ing a 35-23 record at Cam­den Yards, though they are just 2-2-1 in home se­ries since the break, go­ing 10-7 over that span.

“On pa­per, if you look at home records [it should be an ad­van­tage], but I don’t think the An­gels care,” Showal­ter said. “I don’t think that Oakland cares. What may be per­ceived as a bad matchup or some­thing with pitch­ing go­ing in, I can’t tell you how many times … it’s so easy to get am­bushed up here.”

This stretch will carry the Ori­oles into Septem­ber when ros­ters ex­pand to give Showal­ter more pieces to use. The Ori­oles have tra­di­tion­ally played well in the sea­son’s fi­nal weeks over the past five years. Last year, the Ori­oles were 17-12 af­ter Sept. 1 to earn the AL’s fi­nal play­off spot.

As usual, the play­off race goes into the sea­son’s fi­nal quar­ter ex­tremely crowded, with seven teams go­ing into Thurs­day within 31⁄ games of the An­gels, who hold the sec­ond wild-card spot. And of those teams, the Ori­oles were one of four with a los­ing record.

By com­par­i­son, at the same point in the sea­son last year — the 121-game mark — the Ori­oles held posses­sion of the sec­ond wild-card spot, lead­ing by two games and were13 games over .500. In 2016, the Ori­oles won the AL’s fi­nal play­off spot by 2½ games, though they clinched with a win on the fi­nal day of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“It seems like every year [the race is bunched], and then some­one takes off,” Showal­ter said. “It’s a big snow­ball time of the year. That’s prob­a­bly what’s been sur­pris­ing. Some­times teams, men­tally, it be­comes a chal­lenge be­cause of the wear and tear on the emo­tional and men­tal side of the game to stay en­gaged.”

De­spite an in­con­sis­tent sea­son in which the Ori­oles have been be­low .500 for most of the past two months, they will play a large role in de­cid­ing whether they make the play­offs. Thirty-six of their fi­nal 41 games will come against ei­ther AL di­vi­sion lead­ers or teams com­pet­ing for wild-card spots. The only five games re­main­ing that don’t Ori­oles util­ity in­fielder Ryan Fla­herty was ac­ti­vated from the dis­abled list Thurs­day. He hasn’t played in the big leagues since May be­cause of a strained right shoul­der. qual­ify are next week’s home se­ries against Ath­let­ics and a pair of in­ter­league road games at the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates.

“So you’re al­ways hop­ing you get on that pos­i­tive roll,” Showal­ter said. “But at this level, there’s a small sep­a­ra­tor. There are some things that can snow­ball ei­ther way. We’ve got what about six weeks left? So we’ll see.” Fla­herty ac­ti­vated, Te­jada out­righted: The Ori­oles ac­ti­vated util­ity man Ryan Fla­herty from the 60-day dis­abled list Thurs­day and were still able to keep in­fielder Rubén Te­jada in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. Te­jada cleared out­right waivers and was sent to Triple-A Nor­folk.

The club had to add Fla­herty, who has been on the dis­abled list since mid-May with a right shoul­der strain, to its 25-man ros­ter by Thurs­day af­ter his 20-day mi­nor league re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion win­dow ex­pired.

Fla­herty hit .333/.500/.510 in 16 re­hab games with Dou­ble-A Bowie and High-A Fred­er­ick.

Te­jada had been used spar­ingly since the Ori­oles ac­quired short­stop Tim Beck­ham at the non­waiver trade dead­line on July 31, mak­ing just two brief ap­pear­ances this month amount­ing to two in­nings. Te­jada, who hit .230/.293/.283 in 41 games with the Ori­oles, was just 1-for-19 over his last eight games.

He did not have any mi­nor league op­tions re­main­ing, so he had to clear waivers be­fore be­ing out­righted to Nor­folk.

LIND­SEY WAS­SON/GETTY IMAGES

Craig Gen­try says the Ori­oles are “def­i­nitely ex­cited to be [go­ing] home where we’re com­fort­able.” The team opens a stretch of 16 of the next 19 games at home.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Starters: An­gels’ Parker Brid­well (7-1, 2.88) vs. Wade Mi­ley (6-10, 5.21)

Starters: A’s Chris Smith (0-2, 5.26) vs. Chris Till­man (1-7, 7.94) or TBA

Starters: An­gels’ JC Ramirez (10-10, 4.26) vs. Kevin Gaus­man (9-8, 5.08)

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