The Orioles recorded their 50th win yesterday with a win over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field. The Birds did not record their 50th win until August 24th last year. This is the earliest the Orioles have won 50 games since the still haunting 2005 season. That win came against the Minnesota Twins, and was quickly followed by six straight losses which was the beginning of a longer streak of 14 losses in 15 games.
This year, however, the Orioles attain their 50th win as the latest win in a modest four game run. Modest in length, but not in style. After the Orioles' starting rotation seemed to be in full freefall Tommy Hunter, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman put together four stellar starts in a row. The starters over the last four games have pitched 27.2 (that is just a hair under 7IP/G) and have put up a collective ERA of 1.99.
The Orioles' bats seem to be slowly waking from their slumber. Nick Markakis has flourished in the leadoff role, Jim Thome has hit homers in back-to-back games while putting up a very good .362 OBP in the middle of the order. Adam Jones continues to lead the team in everything and even JJ Hardy appears like he is beginning to emerge from his doldrums. It is amazing what a solid week of baseball can do for one's spirits.
A solid week is coming at the right time for the Orioles. The Yankees have lost three straight to the A's; Toronto is pulling the Red Sox back towards the bottom of the division and the Rays continue their sputtering ways. The wins against the Indians have also done some good in the Wild Card standings as the O's have put some separation between themselves and the AL Central teams.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is okay to start looking at those standings. The Orioles have, if nothing else, maintained thus far even after losing their ace Jason Hammel and have even successfully worked their record back over .500 (5-4) since the All-Star Break. Now we can sit here and say that the Orioles have done this against the Twins and Indians, but I hate doing that. You may have an argument with the Twins, but the last time I checked the Indians were a team in a very similar situation as the Orioles. Moreover didn't the Indians basically slap the Orioles around the park for four games just last month? At the heart of the Orioles' recent stretch of pitching prowess sits call-ups Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman. Tillman's struggles are long and storied, and even though he gave up seven runs in the first inning of his game against the Twins only one was earned and he pitched a stellar game yesterday. Gonzalez has been the biggest surprise as he has pitched very solid games against some very tough offenses and has answered the call.
What most impresses me about Gonzalez is his presence on the mound. Covering his loss to the Tigers last week in the pressbox I saw a young pitcher who was calm, collected and simply trusted his pitches and his teammates. Too often when I watch struggling pitchers like Brian Matusz or Jake Arrieta it appears that they are pitching scared. I see this especially with Matusz who never looks comfortable on the mound. It is as if he is thinking with every pitch; "this might be my last one in the majors." I don't get that from Gonzalez. Maybe it is because little was ever truly expected from him he feels he has nothing to lose. Maybe he just has a truly superior mental makeup. Whatever the reason I hope it continues because the team needs a stabilizing force in the rotation going forward if they wish to continue with the luxury of watching the Wild Card standings for the rest of the year.
-The Athletics have suddenly played themselves back into the discussion as they go for a four-game sweep of the Yankees in Oakland today. It is quite remarkable how they seem to do this every year no matter how weak the team looks at times.
-The Yankees finally look at least somewhat mortal, that helps everyone.
-Of the four non-New York teams in the AL East it is pretty amazing that not one of them has been able to string together a significant winning streak to build some distance. All of them are flawed teams but many point to the Red Sox as the team that is most likely to get hot and make a run. They usually use the Boston Run differential, currently at +51, but against the AL East they are -5 and that includes a +24 against the Rays. Additionally, over at the Red Sox Forum "Sons of Sam Horn" a poster points out that their run differential against the teams they have left to play is +2, and they have yet to play the Angels.
-Penn State is taking down the Paterno statue, they should leave the ruins and replace the plaque with the following: "My name is Paterno, king of Kings. Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair."