First Place on the Horizon for the Baltimore Orioles
That is, if everything falls into place.
In order for this to happen, the Birds have to defeat the Blue Jays in Toronto and the division-rival Tampa Bay Rays need to knock off the Bronx Bombers for a second consecutive day, as they inch close behind the Birds.
The black and orange moved to within one game of the Yanks yesterday afternoon after Joe Saunders tossed 6.1 impressive innings as the Birds blanked the Jays 4-0 and the Rays squeaked past the Yankees 4-3.
With the win yesterday, the Birds are now 16 games over the .500 mark and that is the first time it’s happened since 1997, which is coincidentally the last time they finished with a winning record, as I’m sure everyone knows now ad nausea.
Not only is Baltimore in the Eastern division hunt, they are leading the wild card race as well as those scorching Oakland Athletics. They currently have a 1.5 game lead over the Rays.
However, if they do end up having to play a one-game playoff against the A’s to make it into the postseason, it could spell trouble for the Birds. Oakland is a tough team, and has been playing very well together as of late.
The Birds will make one last trip out West this season, and their first stop is Oakland on September 14th. This series will give us a better idea of what they need to work on for the remainder of the year and a preview of what we could possibly see in about three weeks from these two teams.
However, let’s get back to tonight’s game.
This season has been strange between the Jays and the Orioles. In the first series, the Birds took 2-of-3 at Toronto. The, each series after that has resulted in a sweep.
The Birds won the next three games in their first series at Camden Yards. The Jays countered with a three-game sweep in the second series in Toronto and the Birds again countered with a rain-shortened two-game sweep in Baltimore.
Overall, the Birds are 8-4 against the Jays this season, with six games remaining. There are two games left in this week’s series and then Toronto visits the Yards one last time at the end of September (the 24th- 26th and there will be a doubleheader on the 24th).
They have not put together a winning season against the Jays since 2004 when they went 11-8 (in 2009, they went 9-9). They need to win just two more games to ensure a winning record for the season series, and how fitting would it be if the Birds were able to sweep the Jays before heading home to face the Yankees.
The Orioles will send sophomore southpaw Zach Britton (4-1, 4.80 ERA) to the hill in search of his fifth win of the season. He’s hoping to build on his last outing as he tossed eight strong innings, allowed just one earned run on seven base hits and struck out a career-high 10 White Sox en route to his fourth victory of the year.
Over his last three outings, Britton has really stepped up his game. He is 3-0 with a 1.25 ERA and he has tossed 21.2 innings, while striking out 21 opponents.
Against the Jays in his career, he has pitched just 11.2 innings, earning a 1-1 record with a 5.40 ERA and nine strikeouts. On August 24th, the left-hander squared off against the Jays and he tossed 6.2 innings, allowed two earned runs on four hits and picked up his third win of the year.
Tonight’s match-up will feature the same pitchers in the game just a couple of weeks ago (previously mentioned). The right-handed Carlos Villanueva (7-4, 3.10 ERA) will get the nod for the Jays as he hopes to build on his previous outing after he broke a personal four-game losing streak.
In his last game against the Rays, he tossed six shutout innings and struck out seven while issuing just one free pass.
Over his last three outings, he is 1-2 with a 3.00 ERA over 18 innings, including 15 strikeouts. In his career against the Birds, he sports a 2-1 record with a 4.40 ERA and 10 strikeouts.
Chris Davis smashed two home runs off Villanueva over his 5.2 innings of work the last time out against the Birds. The Jays’ RHP allowed four earned runs and five base hits, including those two home runs, as he suffered his fourth loss of the year on August 24th.
Tonight should be a good match-up between a team vying for a playoff spot and a team who realizes they are out of it, but have a chance to play spoiler for a number of teams in the East.
Who has been hot?
J.J. Hardy has broken out of his yearlong slump over the last month of so. Since the beginning of September, his average has jumped from .224 to .231. Although it’s not a significant increase, he has been hitting more consistently and headed in the right direction.
Over that stretch, he batted .260 (27-for-104), including four home runs, 12 RBI and 15 runs scored. He picked up seven multi-hit games over the last 26 games as well.
August was Hardy’s second best month of the year (he hit over .300 with seven home runs in May). However, in June and July, he hit .194 and .183 and combined for just four home runs and 18 RBI over those two months.
Another key bat over the last month or so has been the resurgence of Nick Markakis. In August, the right fielder batted .312 (34-for-104) with three home runs and 18 RBI. (Markakis put together an impressive July as well batting .378 over 19 games).
Mark Reynolds was unstoppable this weekend against the Yankees as he smashed four home runs in three games. However, he came up to the plate three times yesterday in Toronto with two runners on base and struck out each time. So, Reynolds can be hot one minute and completely cooled off in the next series.
Tonight is a big game for the Orioles and they have a strong pitcher heading to the mound. The Jays will counter with one of their most consistent hurlers, so it should be a good match-up.
By: Alex Van Rees
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