In Sunday’s piece, I wrote about how resilient this 2017 Orioles team has been – overcoming setback after setback to keep pace with the Yankees who last week sat atop the American League East division.That piece came shortly after an incredibly frustrating road trip through New York and Boston where nothing went the Orioles’ way, yet they still managed to win three of seven games, keeping their heads above water. Winning the last game in Boston provided the team with a huge boost and they quickly followed that up with a three-game series sweep over a much-improved White Sox team. While the sweep of the White Sox was impressive, the challenge next awaiting Buck Showalter’s men was arguably the toughest in baseball – a four game home/away series against local rivals, the Nationals.
Heading into the series, the Nationals owned the best record in baseball, at 21-10, and were firing on all cylinders. The rotation, which includes the likes of Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer, and Stephen Strasburg, was working to an impressive 3.52 ERA, while the offense, stacked with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy, was averaging well over six runs a game. Winning two of the four games would have been a pass mark for the Orioles – a team which most of the national writers and PECOTA still don’t rate as a genuine challenger. They’re happy to fly under the radar again though – as they’ve done every year since the 2012 revival.
Following the first two games in Baltimore, the Orioles have recorded the two wins they were seeking and now head to Washington DC full of momentum and with the pressure focused solely on their opponents. The wins themselves were once again hard-fought and full of resilience – in particular last night’s win where they fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the 8th and a 4-2 deficit in the 9th to send the game to extra innings. Once here, they rode yet another impressive outing from Logan Verrett (2-0, 5.0 IP, 0.00 ERA) before Mark Trumbo’s one-out bases loaded single in the 12th sent the fans home happy. Earlier in the evening Ubaldo Jimenez worked through seven brilliant innings, allowing just the one run – via a Murphy solo shot in the 2nd. However, as if tempting fate, Showalter wasn’t satisfied with the outing and sent Jimenez out there for the 8th where pinch-hitting Adam Lind launched a three run homer to put the Nationals up 4-1. The opportunity, to most Orioles fans, seemed lost. The gutsy Orioles, lead by Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop, and J.J. Hardy, however had other ideas – the rest, as they say, is now history.
The walk-off win, one of the most dramatic of the season, came on the back of more bad news for the Orioles on the injury front with closer Zach Britton earlier ruled out for up to two months; possibly more. The loss of Britton, who is still struggling with a forearm injury sustained in April, hurts an already overworked bullpen, however the team continues to battle on, relying on the lesser-likes of Alec Asher, Verrett, and co. as they continue to win against all odds.
Statistically, the team is performing similarly in many categories to the peculiar 2012 team which won many close games and proved that a strong positive run differential doesn’t always equate to a large number of wins, and vice-versa. Through 32 games this season, the Orioles have a run differential of just +14, a reasonably low figure for a team which has won 12 more games than it has lost. In one-run games the team is 8-1 and in extra innings they’re 5-1. Again, the determination, grittiness, and resilience is shining through when it matters most.
With Gonzalez and Scherzer now behind them, the Orioles head to DC with Wade Miley (1-1, 2.27 ERA) and Dylan Bundy (5-1, 2.17 ERA) on the mound – their two best pitchers so far this season. If they can split the two-game set, or win both, they’ll head to Kansas City with an even bigger wave of momentum.