Baseball is a funny game in that, as a fan, you can somewhat ignore the season for a week or two, pick it back up and end up essentially where you left off. It’s rare over the course of the year for a dramatic shift to take place over 7-10 days — at least, that’s the conventional school of thought when talking about 29 teams in baseball. For the Orioles, this rule doesn’t quite exist.
This recent victorious stretch has been fun to watch, but it’s been equally as puzzling to see unfold. You could really say the same thing about the month of August in general. It’s almost a tradition of watching a Buck Showalter team — you expect losses and then somehow, with a roster full of unknowns, a winning streak emerges and for a slight moment, the Orioles feel unstoppable.
For the time being, that’s where we are in Birdland. And the good news is that it sure seems like these winning ways are sustainable. It’ll take a bit of everything falling into place where it needs to, but it’s about time to BUCKle up and get ready for what could be a pretty great final month of the season.
Staying hot on offense
The month of August has been pretty incredible for the Orioles’ bats, and nobody really needs to be reminded of that. When you take a look at the total slash lines for each month however, it’s pretty impressive to see just how notable the production has been:
That’s some kind of improvement. Led by the likes of Manny Machado (.339 August average) and Welington Castillo (.333), there’s success coming from everywhere. It’s easy to forget about the continued consistency from guys like Jonathan Schoop and Trey Mancini, not to mention Tim Beckham who might be more popular in Baltimore than, well, any player ever.
Up and down, this is a lineup that’s maintaining its power while pairing significantly improved average and on-base numbers. Everyone gets a little bit of credit for what’s been going right, which makes the short-term outlook fairly positive as we approach September.
Everyone has to stay sharp. But assuming no major dips in production sneak up, this is a lineup built for the playoff push.
The pitching game remains the same
The starting pitching is going to be hit-or-miss. Some nights, Dylan Bundy is going to toss a gem and look the part of a Cy Young candidate. Others, another member of the rotation won’t make it past the fourth inning. That’s just the way it is — as long as there isn’t a colossal meltdown across the board, the starters won’t be the roadblock holding this team back from the postseason.
That would fall on the shoulders of the bullpen, the area that very likely determines the fate of the 2017 Orioles. Our Tyler Young wrote a great piece yesterday about the bullpen; check that article out and enjoy it, because it sums up the current situation very well.
The encouraging point to take away from the bullpen is a simple one — if Zach Britton is dominant, there’s no need to worry about where the relief pitching will lead this team. There’s enough talent behind the outfield wall to take care of the strange situations that are guaranteed to occur over the course of the final month. Whether it’s Mychal Givens, Richard Bleier or a to-be-determined September call-up, there’s going to be help behind the starters.
The bullpen is the most important factor of the closing weeks, and its primary focus is on Zach Britton. If I’m Buck Showalter, I like the chances of being dominant in this upcoming stretch.
The road ahead
There’s nothing easy about what the Orioles are attempting to do in the weeks ahead. The team is still behind in the wild card race and the upcoming schedule is full of quality opponents. But what lies ahead over the next several days is an opportunity to establish a place in the American League fight until the end of the year, exactly the type of situation a Showalter-led team seems to thrive on.
Over the next five days, the Orioles will see Seattle again before welcoming in the Blue Jays for a four-game set. After that, it’s a series against the Yankees, still at Camden Yards, for a trio of games that could mark a serious turning point in the year.
It’s not insignificant that the O’s don’t play a game on the road again until September 8th in Cleveland. The schedule is set up favorably for these Birds to burst onto the scene. And taking all of the factors into account, the “best case scenario” — a spot in the postseason — doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched.