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Around the AL East, Week 24: Stick a fork in the Orioles – they’re done

Dropping five of seven games last week crushed any slight hopes the Orioles had to finish strongly and sneak into the playoffs as a wild card. They didn't.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles

The remote chance the Orioles had to steal a wild card berth went down in flames last week with loss after embarrassing loss that spotlighted the glaring weaknesses the 2017 Orioles have faced all year – shockingly bad pitching and a hibernating offense too reliant on the home run. Major league teams can hide those flaws for only so long before proving that a playoff run is just a dream.

Time to wake up, Orioles.

Maybe it wouldn’t have a made a difference, but Buck Showalter’s stubborn dependence on starting rally-killers Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo instead of jump-starting the offense with an infusion of the young talent just added to the team was especially frustrating.

Who knows what would have happened if Austin Hays had started five or more of the six games against the Indians and Blue Jays as was suggested here? We’ll never know, but it’s a fact that while Hays started just one of those games, the Orioles lost five of them – four by a total of just five runs.

Davis and Trumbo started all six contests, unwisely batting back-to-back in each game, virtually ensuring that any chance of a big inning with these two due up would fail. Davis batted .105 with two hits (one homer – solo, of course) and nine strikeouts in 22 plate appearances.

Trumbo hit .158 with a solo home run, scoring just once and knocking in two runs. He struck out seven times with a .200 OBP.

The pitching wasn’t the problem in four of these five losses, allowing just 14 runs. The Orioles lost due to a stale offense that featured the same lineup being marched out there day after day achieving the same, predictable and disappointing results.

Of course, the starting pitching failed miserably on the road trip to New York, lowlighted by another horrific performance from trade-deadline pickup Jeremy Hellickson. He somehow made his numbers as an Oriole even worse that they were before his start on Saturday by giving up six runs in just three innings and raising his Oriole ERA to 7.29 in nine starts.

Last week: 2-5 (1-2 at Blue Jays; 1-3 at Yankees)

Week ahead: 3 games vs. Red Sox; 4 games vs. Rays

Boston Red Sox

That noise the Red Sox hear is the Yankees’ scratching at their hold on first place in the A.L. East. Despite winning four of six games last week, Boston lost a half-game to New York and now lead them by just three games.

Boston welcomed back the $217 million man, David Pricey, from the disabled list, but plan to pitch him out of the bullpen. He hurled two scoreless innings yesterday against the Rays without allowing a base runner.

Keep an eye on the extent of a thumb injury Mookie Betts sustained in yesterday’s game that caused his early exit. The Red Sox could ill-afford the loss of another offensive weapon after being without Eduardo Nunez since September 9.

Boston has scored three or fewer runs in four of their past seven games. According to Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham, Nunez is expected to return from a knee sprain by their upcoming weekend series in Cincinnati.

Last week: 4-2 (2-1 vs. Athletics; 2-1 at Rays)

Week ahead: 3 games at Orioles; 3 games at Reds

New York Yankees

The Yankees’ annihilation of the Orioles in their just-concluded four-game series completed an amazing thwarting of an opponent, despite the weak competition. The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina points out that the 147 runs the Yankees have scored against the Orioles this season are the most scored by a team versus any opponent since the expansion era began in 1961.

Among the long list of impressive hitters in their lineup, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez did their part in helping the Yankees win three of the four games this past weekend and outscore Baltimore 34-16.

Gregorius hit .462 in the series with three home runs and eight RBIs. Yesterday’s dinger was his 24th and tied Derek Jeter for the team record for shortstops.

Sanchez hit his 31st homer of the year in Thursday’s game, his 165th as a major leaguer. He slugged 50 home runs though his first 162 games.

Last week: 5-2 (2-1 at Rays; 3-1 vs. Orioles)

Week ahead: 3 games vs. Twins; 3 games at Blue Jays

Tampa Bay Rays

One bright spot in a very average season for the Rays is the emergence of Kevin Kiermaier as a bona fide superstar. Since returning from a broken hip suffered earlier in the season that cost him more than two months, Kiermaier has batted .322 with seven long-balls and four steals.

His solid plate skills supplement his defensive skills, which have marked him as the game’s best fielding centerfielder. However, he’s struggled defensively by his standards in his limited action this year. According to Fangraphs, his UZR/150 (runs saved above average per 150 games) is just 1.1 this year. His ratings the last three years were 35.3, 40.4 and 24.2, respectively.

Last week: 2-4 (1-2 vs. Yankees; 1-2 vs. Red Sox)

Week ahead: 2 games vs. Cubs; 4 games at Orioles

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays won six of eight games before losing big, 13-7, yesterday against the Twins. The Jays may never make it out of the last place hold they’ve had all year long, but you can’t blame that on Josh Donaldson.

His scorching second half, which features an OPS approaching 1.000, continued against Minnesota. He went 10-for-17 with five home runs, eight runs and seven RBIs.

Toronto remains in the A.L. East cellar, three games behind the Orioles and Rays.

Last week: 4-3 (2-1 vs. Orioles; 2-2 at Twins)

Week ahead: 3 games vs. Royals; 3 games vs. Yankees