The Orioles rotation has been quietly good over the past month, racking up a 3.84 xFIP. That’s not terribly impressive given the context of the rest of the league, but it’s fantastic for the Orioles, who ranked near the bottom of the league last year and who were expected to do the same this year. Wei-Yin Chen, in particular, has been very good since his 3.1 IP, 5 ER start against Tampa Bay on June 28th. And even that was only a blip in a solid season that should result in his third straight 2+ fWAR campaign.
Tonight Chen pitched very well, striking out seven, walking one, and giving up six hits, including a two-run dinger, over 7.1 IP. He did not get a ton of ground balls, but sometimes you don’t need them. If you’re limiting walks (and Chen does that — he’s 7th in the majors in BB%) and striking out batters, the occasional home run isn’t going to ruin things, not with a bullpen and an offense like the Orioles have. And tonight was just such a game.
Chen gave up that two-run dinger early. It came off the bat of Avisail Garcia, one batter after Jose Abreu had blooped a dying quail down the right-field line for a cheapie single. But with two out already, Chen immediately struck out Dayan Viciedo and set about retiring the next nine batters. The next batter to reach base was Paul Konerko, who smacked a hard double to lead off the bottom of the fifth. But Chen retired the next three batters, and Konerko was stranded.
Meanwhile, the Orioles weren’t making a lot of contact against Hector Noesi, but when they did, the ball traveled far. Noesi notched four strikeouts the first time through the order (Steve Pearce, Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis, and Jonathan Schoop). And the second time through, he started by whiffing Nick Markakis. But then in the top of the fourth, Steve Pearce connected on a pitch and sent it over the wall to make it 2-1. Adam Jones then doubled for his second hit of the night, and Cruz blasted his 33rd of the season, making it a 3-2 ballgame. The dinger tied Cruz’s single-season high, from way back in 2009, and we’re not even done with August yet.
In the top of the sixth, Jones connected for an opposite-field long ball, his third hit of the night. That made it 4-2, but the White Sox got the run back in the bottom half. Alexei Ramirez doubled and advanced to third on Alejandro de Aza’s groundout. Jose Abreu walked in a pretty tense plate appearance. Garcia then lifted a fly ball to right field that Nick Markakis settled under for the catch. He appeared to nonchalantly throw the ball back in, maybe not thinking that Ramirez would tag. But Ramirez did, and his speed plus a rushed offline throw from Markakis set the score at 4-3. Then, with the tying run on first base, Chris Davis made a fine diving stop and throw off the bat of Viciedo to force Abreu at second base for the third out.
Chen, still going strong, retired the side in order in the seventh but ran into trouble in the eighth. Leury Garcia flew out, then Ramirez and de Aza singled back-to-back, which put the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run on base. Buck Showalter turned to Darren O’Day, who’d been warming since the start of the inning, to limit the damage. In the highest-leverage plate appearances for either side, O’Day struck out Abreu and Garcia swinging, making them look silly with his slider and high fastball. Neither team did much of anything in the ninth inning, except that Zach Britton continued to be awesome by getting two ground ball outs and a game-ending K.
Your Baltimore Orioles are now an astonishing 21 games above .500. They take the day off tomorrow before heading to the north side of the Chicago to play three with the Cubs. The Blue Jays won tonight, but all that did was keep their second-place status at nine games back. The Yankees lost tonight and are 9.5 GB.