The month of August will make or break the 2015 season for the Baltimore Orioles. That’s not really earth-shattering news for a playoff contender that has played inconsistent baseball all season. The Orioles followed an 18-5 stretch in June with a 5-15 stretch that sunk their record from 41-34 to 46-49. Now, winners of four straight, the Orioles are back above .500 and just two games behind the fast-sinking Minnesota Twins in the race for the second Wild Card. The red-hot New York Yankees, who swept the Orioles out of the Bronx last week, have remained on fire and have a seven-game lead in the American League East. If the Orioles want to stay in either race, they need a month of August more in line with June than July.
Luckily, the Major League Baseball scheduling gods have handed the Orioles a winning August on a silver platter.
Counting the last three games of July, the Orioles will play 19 of their next 32 games against teams with a record .500 or below. A similar stretch of games fueled their hot month of June. In that month, the Orioles beat up on the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, and Philadelphia Phillies to really pad their record. In August, they will get to try their luck against a Detroit Tigers team that will probably look different come July 31, a gutted Oakland A’s roster (twice!), the offensively inept Seattle Mariners, and the Texas Rangers whose pitching staff has gone south in a hurry. The Orioles will miss Felix Hernandez on their trip to Safeco, and will face Sonny Gray only once in their two series against the Athletics. The Twins may also be below .500 by the end of August when they come to Baltimore.
The two biggest land mines in the month of August are road series against the Los Angeles Angels and Kansas City Royals. The road has not been kind to the Orioles this season. They cannot afford to lose both of those series. If they can manage at least a 3-4 record in those seven games, the rest of the month should shake out fine. Despite the rather ugly 9-13 record in July, the Orioles have actually outscored their opponents 75-74. On a pure runs allowed per game basis, the pitching staff has been better than they were in June. The Orioles have allowed just 3.36 runs per game in July. Throw ERA, quality starts, and all the other advanced statistics out the window. The Orioles have done their jobs on the mound and in the field when it comes to preventing runs. The Tampa Bay Rays, who are viewed as having one of the best pitching staffs in the entire league, have allowed only six fewer runs than the Orioles this season. The Washington Nationals and their “historically great” rotation have allowed the same number of runs as the Orioles.
Now, if they could just figure out how to put more of them on the board.
The past four games have seen an uptick in offensive production by the Orioles. Chris Davis has been red-hot, as has Adam Jones. Manny Machado is continuing his breakout season. Jonathan Schoop has returned from the disabled list with a vengeance. J.J. Hardy, who has struggled to shake off the effects of a Spring Training shoulder injury, is in the midst of an 11-game hitting streak. Matt Wieters is finally catching consecutive days. Being in the lineup with more consistency should finally allow him to provide a consistent presence in the middle of the lineup. Nolan Reimold has also begun to hit well, and should begin to see more consistent playing time in left field. And then, there is the possibility of the Orioles making a trade to acquire the outfield bat they have needed all year. Justin Upton would do wonders in right or left field and allow Davis to move back to first base, where he really belongs.
If the Orioles do not have the best all-around team in the American League East, they certainly have the second-best. Only the Yankees can really contend with them in that regard, and both teams have the same Pythagorean record — 55-44 — based on Bill James‘ formula that predicts expected win-loss record.
Baseball’s 162-game schedule is a grind, and teams will have stretches like the one the Orioles suffered through in July. That fact is unavoidable, even for good teams, and the stretches where a team cannot seem to buy a hit can seem interminable. Then, there are of course the 18-5 stretches that give fans the feeling that their team will never lose again. The Orioles have had stretches of both this season. Now, they appear to be entering another hot streak, and the schedule plays out well in their favor. The Orioles have taken care of business against losing teams this season. If they do so again in August, their playoff hopes should be in good shape.
And you all wanted them to sell.