Baltimore Orioles are the 2014 AL East Champs…what’s next?

So, it’s official. After dropping the final six games of what appeared to be a promising season in 2013, the Baltimore Orioles have won the AL East title, marking the first time since 1997 that they’ve clinched the division and just the second time since 1997 that a team other than the Yankees and Red Sox has taken the division (the Rays won it in 2008). What makes it better is that, with five games left this season, the second-place Yankees are a devastating thirteen games behind the Orioles. Thirteen! Sorry, Jeter. Now, before you go attributing this gap to Yankees and their inability to find quality talent despite their massive budget, I would remind you that there are concrete reasons to the Orioles’ success. They have overcome team-altering injuries (Manny Machado, Matt Wieters) and had to deal with a totally avoidable suspension (Chris Davis), but they have built a team to withstand this kind of adversity.

Pitchers

The Orioles have benefited tremendously from the bevy of quality pitchers they have. This season, the Orioles staff has held opponents to a .244 batting average, 5th in the American League, and have earned a team ERA of 3.44, 3rd in the American League and 7th in the entire MLB. Yet, Baltimore ranks 25th in the MLB in Quality Starts (defined as a start in which the starting pitcher throws at least six innings while allowing fewer than three earned runs), so where is this supposedly great pitching coming from?

Paul Brandley covers Zach Britton and the 2014 AL East champion Baltimore Orioles.

Zach Britton has been stellar.

The answer: the dynamic duo of Zach Britton and Darren O’Day. These two, even after losing fellow reliever Andrew Miller to a trade with the Red Sox, have performed admirably. Setup man Darren O’Day has held batters to a .179 batting average, earning 24 holds and maintaining an ERA of 1.76. Closer Zach Britton has recorded 36 saves, 7 holds and has allowed only 45 hits in 74+ innings. Batters are hitting only .179 against him, helping him to an ERA of 1.70, well below his average ERA of 4.87 during the previous three seasons.

Hitters

That being said, it has not been all pitching for the O’s. With so few quality starts this year, Baltimore really needed its hitters to step up, and boy, have¬†they ever.

The Orioles currently rank 9th in the MLB with a .258 team batting average and 7th in total runs scored (686), but have been guided by a collection of sluggers that negate most of the non-quality starts. Guys like Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce, J.J. Hardy, and Nick Markakis have produced admirably, helping the team to the 3rd best slugging percentage in the league at .423. Say what you will about his past, but Nelson Cruz has been a beast this season, mashing 40 home runs, picking up where the now-suspended Chris Davis left off when he hit 53 home runs. Steve Pearce has also been a pleasant surprise after a disappointing 44-game season last year. He’s hitting for an average of .297 and has smacked 20 home runs, giving him a solid¬†WAR at 6.

Paul Brandley covers Nelson Cruz and the Baltimore Orioles

Nelson Cruz mashes one of his 40 home runs.

In the end, we’ll need to see how the Orioles handle themselves in the playoffs. Each of the hitters mentioned in this article were in the playoffs when the Orioles last made it (Nelson Cruz lost to the Orioles with the Texas Rangers in the one-game playoff), so this isn’t their first “rodeo”. However, it remains to be seen how a team that missed the playoffs last year and lost two stars in Machado and Davis will perform against star-studded teams like the Angels and Tigers. Either way, it’s time to break out the playoff gear!

Let’s go O’s!

 

 

 

 

Orioles Sweep White Sox Behind Cruz HR

Wednesday night the Baltimore Orioles finished off a clean sweep, beating the Chicago White Sox 4-3. A lot of credit can be attributed to Nelson Cruz – the man who blasted his 33rd home run of the season.

Cruz, who matched his career high for homers, currently leads the league in that category. He is one homer ahead of Jose Abreu and Giancarlo Stanton.

Nelson Cruz and the Orioles have had a lot to celebrate lately - most notably, their ability to hit the long ball.

Nelson Cruz and the Orioles have had a lot to celebrate lately – most notably, their ability to hit the long ball.

After the game, however, Cruz said that he could care less about the home run numbers – he’s just happy that the Orioles are cruising (pun intended).

And it wasn’t just Cruz that was on top of his game. The Orioles also got homers out of Adam Jones and Steve Pearce. To date, the Orioles have launched 161 baseballs over the outfield fence.

But the Orioles also got some quality pitching from starter Wei-Yin Chen; he went 7 and 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits. Zach Britton came in for the save, his 27th save of the season. Chen started off sloppy, allowing a two-run home run in the first inning to Avisail Garcia. He ran into trouble again in the 8th inning, allowing two singles – one to Alexei Ramirez and one to Alejandro De Aza. That’s when Darren O’Day entered the game and struck out Jose Abreu and Garcia to end the inning.

The White Sox have been slipping lately and are now nine games under .500.

The Orioles also gave some updates on Manny Machado, saying that his sprained right ankle has been recovering slowly. It has not responded favorably to treatments and exercises. As for the White Sox, outfielder Adam Eaton could be coming off the disabled list next week. He’ll be starting his rehab assignment in AAA very soon. Eaton has been struggling to recover from a strained right oblique and can supply some offense to a White Sox team that needs it desperately.

The Orioles have the day off today before traveling to visit the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Friday. Kevin Gausman will be matching up with Jake Arrieta. Arrieta has been having a good year, posting an ERA of 2.6 for the season.

The White Sox also have the day off today before traveling to New York to go up against the Yankees. John Danks will be facing off with Shane Greene. Danks has struggled since the start of July, posting a 6.2 ERA over the last seven weeks. Good news for the White Sox, though: Carlos Rodon, the third overall pick in this year’s draft, could be making an appearance in the majors before the season ends.