Looking Ahead: Pivotal Series vs. Blue Jays
The Orioles end the month of August with quite possibly the biggest series of the season (to date) against the Toronto Blue Jays. After the Blue Jays guaranteed the Twins an at-best .500 record (which means they must win 32 straight) they come into Baltimore for the third time, but now, with a three game lead over the birds in the American League East. Now, more than ever, is time for the Orioles to play their best baseball.
So far this season, the Orioles are 6-7 against the Blue Jays, but have won three of the past five against the boys from across the border. The Orioles have hammered out 21 home runs against Toronto pitching this year, which is the most they have hit against any club in 2016. As a team, they have put together a respectable .266 batting average against Toronto, and have a .329 on-base percentage, which is best against any other AL East foe.
Chris Davis leads the club in homers vs. Toronto, with four, but Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Matt Wieters, Pedro Alvarez, and Adam Jones are all right behind him with three.
On the pitching side of the ball, the Orioles staff has allowed a 5.77 ERA, while giving up 21 home runs of their own when facing Blue Jays batters. When you look at the starting rotation against Toronto, Chris Tillman has the most respectable ERA, even though it is still elevated, at 4.32. Yovani Gallardo, who will pitch on Wednesday night, has a 6.75 ERA. Granted, Gallardo has only started two games against Toronto, however, has not pitched more than 5 innings in either one of them.
Do the current Orioles have what it takes to take two of three, or possibly sweep the Blue Jays out of Baltimore?
Taking a look at their play as of late, and knowing they are losers of eight of the last 12, it’s easy to say there’s no way the O’s come out of this series having gained any ground in the AL East. That’s especially easy to say knowing the status of Adam Jones and his hamstring, Darren O’Day and his rotator cuff, and now Steve Pearce with a possible right arm injury. It is also very easy to think that given the combined ERA of the three starters in this series of 6.39, and a combined 10-19 record.
But how wild would it be if the Orioles actually sat in a tie for first place on Thursday morning? Honestly, would it be that crazy to think that first place is within reach if they play well enough throughout this three game set? Remember, this team has spent 111 days in first place, and has proven just about every sports media outlet wrong that predicted them to finish dead last, with right around 70 wins. Newsflash, they now have 71.
Hypothetically speaking, what would it take for the O’s to re-claim first place, and head into September with a lead in the division?
Well first, they need to play at home, which they are. The Orioles do still have the second best home record (42-22) in the American League (second to Texas, 42-21), and third best overall in the majors. They’re also going to need the offense to not slip back into a funk, and score runs. A lot of them. The Blue Jays are second in the AL in runs scored (to Boston, 700), and in run differential, so the offense is going to need to get the table setters on base, and have the big bats drive them in. This is not the series to have Davis, and Trumbo striking out 15 times or more a piece.
We know the pitching matchups aren’t favorable, but are there any upsides?
Well, we can try to make some, can’t we? Wade Miley will get the nod tomorrow night, and he will be looking for his second win in a row. Since coming to the Orioles at the trade deadline in a deal that sent minor leaguer Ariel Miranda to the Mariners, Miley is 1-2 with a 7.83 ERA. That’s not the positive. The positive is in his last start, Miley did hold the Nationals to 2 runs, through 5 innings, and struck out six batters. In that outing, Miley threw 96 pitches, with 62 of them being strikes. If he can build off of that outing, and locate his pitches, he may just be able to do the same to a very powerful Blue Jays lineup.
Also, yes, we all know Ubaldo Jimenez has been less than stellar in his time in an Orioles uniform, but, unfortunately, he is the best option we have to take the mound in the absence of Chris Tillman. Ubaldo also pitched well against the Nationals last week, however, he was settled with a loss. Jimenez wound up pitching six strong against Washington on August 25, while only allowing one earned run and striking out four. On Tuesday night, Jimenez will be looking for his first win since June 28, when he pitched five innings of one-run ball in San Diego. Jimenez owns a 4.91 career ERA against Toronto, through 14 starts.
Realistically, the Orioles season doesn’t necessarily come down to this series, however, this one will play a big role in where they could finish the season. If they can manage a sweep, as far out as it seems right now, they will, as stated above, enter a first place tie with the Blue Jays. However, the technical argument can be made that even with identical records (74-59), the Orioles would have a better record in the east (30-23), and would place them in first place over the Jays. If they manage to win two out of three, they would have gained only one game on the Blue Jays. In the event the Orioles are swept by the Blue Jays, they would fall to six games behind the pace, and may ultimately see their hopes of a division championship slip right out of their hands.
I try to stay positive as much as I can, so I’m going to go into this series with the mindset that each of these next three games are winnable. Here’s to hoping that everyone else feels the same way, and we see a sea of orange come out to Oriole Park to support the, very much in-contention, Baltimore Orioles.