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September 5, 2012

What You Need to Know

Wednesday, September 5

by Daniel Rathman

The Tuesday Takeaway
On July 18, the Yankees led the American League East by 10 games, and the most surprising thing about the second-place Orioles was, well, that they were in second place. Another division title in the Bronx, another year of waiting—waiting for the glory days of 1997—in Baltimore, just as everyone expected before the first pitch of the season was thrown. Not so fast.

For the first time in 15 years, when they last won the East division, the Orioles can claim a share of first place on Sept. 5, with 135 games in the books and only 27 left to play. Baltimore’s march up the standings began a month and a half ago, with a 4-3 victory over the Twins, the second in a string of five straight wins. A 5-3 setback at Comerica Park on Aug. 17 left Buck Showalter’s team seven games back, with only three games of progress to show for a month of labor. But since then, the Orioles have gone 12-4, winning their last three in a row, and announcing their return to the top of the standings with a resounding 12-0 rout at the Rogers Centre last night.

Baltimore is 12-2 in extra-inning games this year and 24-7 in those decided by one run—two telltale signs that, come October, the Cinderella shoe may no longer fit their foot. Then again, when this series in Toronto began, the Orioles’ run differential for the season stood at -35, and they have squared nearly half of that deficit in just two trips to the diamond since.

Sources of skepticism abound, but increasingly, there are reasons to believe, as well. Zach Britton tossed seven scoreless innings on Tuesday, his fourth consecutive start with two or fewer runs allowed. Manny Machado, who was promoted with the Orioles 4 ½ games behind on Aug. 8, is slugging .466 after going 3-for-5 with a double last night. And Mark Reynolds, homer-less from Aug. 17-30, has now gone deep six times in as many games.

Our playoff odds are still wary of the O’s, giving them only a 1-in-3 chance of reaching the postseason and a 1-in-4 shot of doing so as division champions. Then again, Baltimore’s hopes were at 4 percent on July 18, and the Orioles now hold a good deal of their destiny in their own hands.

The Yankees, dinged up and slumping, are likely to find their footing soon—but the Orioles can dig their rivals a hole during the four-game series at Camden Yards this weekend. The Rays, who also have climbed back into contention and are nipping at the Birds’ heels from a game-and-a-half back, come to Baltimore for three immediately thereafter. And the wild-card route remains viable, if convoluted, too, with the O’s and Yanks in a three-way tie with the Athletics, who will host the Orioles at the Coliseum next weekend.

Those 10 games figure to make or break Baltimore’s storybook season. Tonight, the Orioles will ask rookie Miguel Gonzalez to pave the way for a sweep of the Blue Jays and build on their momentum heading into that pivotal stretch (7:07 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Wednesday

  • If you’re looking for a pitchers’ duel to spice up your Wednesday afternoon, your best bet may be the series finale between the Mets and the Cardinals. R.A. Dickey—who joins Gio Gonzalez as one of two 17-game winners on today’s slate—will take on Adam Wainwright, who was knocked around by the Nationals in his most recent outing, but did not allow more than two runs in any of his seven previous starts. Dickey fired his third complete-game shutout of the season by blanking the Marlins in his last trip to the bump, and his first gem of the year came against Mike Matheny’s squad on June 2, in the midst of a five-game stretch during which he was not charged with a single earned run (1:45 p.m. ET).
  • Is the Athletics’ magic beginning to wear off? Bob Melvin’s surprisingly potent lineup has hit a lull in the first two games of their series with the Angels, and the A’s must beat their former ace, Dan Haren, to avoid what would be an ominous sweep. Josh Donaldson was held to a 1-for-4 outing last night, but he has smacked four home runs in his last six games and will look to provide more thump in support of Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy (3:35 p.m. ET).
  • The Yankees have owned at least a share of the American League East lead every day since June 11, but that first-place run is in jeopardy, as Baltimore has now drawn even with New York. Joe Girardi will send Hiroki Kuroda to the mound in tonight’s series finale at Tropicana Field, hoping that the righty can outduel Matt Moore and give his sputtering offense a chance to dodge Tampa Bay’s brooms. Kuroda’s lone start against the Rays this season came way back in his New York debut on April 7, when Tampa Bay touched him up for six runs (four earned) on eight hits and a season-high four walks in only 5 2/3 innings. Conversely, Moore beat the Yankees with seven innings of three-run ball on July 2 (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Braves are no strangers to September swoons, and they have now dropped four of six to the Padres, Phillies, and Rockies, including yesterday’s 6-0 dud at the hands of Drew Pomeranz, Carlos Torres, and co. With the Nats pulling away in the National League East, Atlanta must focus on clinging to one of the senior circuit’s wild-card berths, and doing so will mean fending off two of the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates. Jason Heyward, who snapped a 3-for-25 skid with a 2-for-4 effort on Tuesday, will try to stay on track in tonight’s matchup with Alex White. Meanwhile, Braves starter Mike Minor, who was shelled to the tune of eight runs on 10 hits and four walks in only five innings of work at Coors Field on May 5, will look to exorcise his Colorado demons and deliver a winning performance at Turner Field for the first time in over a month (7:10 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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