ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Yet again, the Orioles return from a tough road stretch still lodged in the playoff hunt.
The Orioles’ six-game trip to New York and Tampa Bay concluded with two road series wins. The Orioles took the first two games in the Bronx, overcoming some starting pitching struggles. But once the O’s arrived in Tampa Bay, their pitching carried them against a Rays team that boasts the best team ERA in baseball since the All-Star break (2.34).
After Friday’s game, the Orioles were mired in an 0-for-22 slump with runners in scoring position. They only scored five runs in the three-game series against the Rays, but when you’re getting good pitching, it’s much easier to be patient with the bats.
Against the Rays, the Orioles allowed just two runs – two Tommy Hunter solo homers in Friday’s 2-0 loss – over 26 innings, ending the series with 20 straight scoreless innings.
A pair of rookies, left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, each tossed seven scoreless innings over the weekend. Despite allowing two homers Friday, Hunter was one out away from a quality start. And the Orioles bullpen threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings. The Orioles outdueled the Rays triple-threat of David Price, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson.
“When you go up against a guy like Price or Moore or Hellickson or all their guys, you know that you're going to have to have a well-pitched game,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Any time an out-of-town reporter comes in asking Showalter the difference between this year’s team and those in the past, he preaches about the value of the team’s pitching. The Orioles will go as far as their pitching takes them, Showalter repeats to anyone listening.
"This time of the year, I'm sure you all noticed, there's a lot of well-pitched games,” Showalter said. “That's pretty normal from my experience. Late July through the month of August, you'll see some pitchers on top of their game. That's where the fatigue really starts to set in on some of the position players and pitchers are getting four, five days off.
“This whole group is getting five days off between starts, so you're going to see some well-pitched games between now and then,” Showalter said. “Our guys did a lot of things well to make a difference in a real close game" Sunday.
Granted, the Orioles' superb pitching came against a Rays teams that owns a team batting average of .220 -- worst in the majors -- since the All-Star break, but pitching will be the Orioles’ great equalizer. With this lineup, the runs will come. But if the Orioles can sustain this level of pitching, they will be in the race until the end.
That’s still a huge if, but the Orioles' young rotation has shown flashes. Chen has 10 wins. And if the O’s can sustain this until they get ace right-hander Jason Hammel back next month, they should be good for the long haul.
And now, the Orioles return for a 10-game, 11-day homestand, with seven of those games coming against sub .500 teams.
If they can keep pitching like that did this weekend, it will be a fruitful homestand.
So let’s take a look at how the Orioles pitching this weekend matched up with the rest of the AL playoff contenders.