By Andrew R. Koch
The Baltimore Orioles have been on a run for the ages since the end of May, as what was once a weak spot is now one of their strengths.
On May 30, the Orioles were 26- 27. They were struggling with consistency both at the plate and from their starting pitching. The starters were struggling to get past the fifth inning on a regular basis, putting a heavy strain on the bullpen. Since then, it’s been the starting pitching that’s been leading the way.
Left-hander WeiYin Chen has only lost twice in his last 24 starts, and ace right-hander Chris Tillman hasn’t lost a start since July 12. That, along with a 3.46 team earned-run average that’s good for third-low- est in the American League, have contributed to Baltimore’s 70-39 record since the end of May. The final homestand of the season was highlighted by Baltimore clinching its first division title since 1997, and the first at home since 1969, with a final division lead of 12.5 games over New York and 13 games over Toronto. Center fielder Adam Jones celebrated the division title by smashing “Victory Pies” in fans’ faces, and dousing the head groundskeeper in beer on the field. The Orioles also once again lead the league in long balls, with 210 home runs this season. The Colorado Rockies are second with 185, followed by A.L. East rival Toronto with 177. Baltimore scores nearly half of its runs on homers.
Baltimore’s bench players are getting some of the limelight due to injuries to key starters. Jimmy Paredes, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk, has been playing third base with Manny Machado out due to season-ending knee surgery. Paredes is quickly winning his way into the hearts of fans with some power, to the tune of four doubles, two homers and driving in eight runs in 11 games since being called up. With Chris Davis sitting out the rest of the regular season because of a drug suspension, Steve Pearce has gotten regular playing time at first base, and has responded with a career high .293 batting average and 21 home runs. Ryan Flaherty has seen regular playing time at second base and shortstop due to the struggles of rookie Jonathan Schoop at the plate and back spasms for J.J. Hardy. Flaherty has also shifted over to third as manager Buck Showalter works his defensive substitutions and lineup of relievers in the bullpen.
The Orioles finished off the regular season by going 3-4 on the road in the Bronx and in Toronto. The A.L. Division Series will start on Oct. 2.