I’ll admit that I have no idea what to think of the Baltimore Orioles right now. I tend to lean toward the “they aren’t legitimate playoff contenders” camp even though the Birds enter play Monday just a game out of the wild-card race in the American League.
Baltimore did have a great road trip last week. The Orioles’ six-game trip to New York and Tampa Bay resulted in two series wins. Against the Rays, the Orioles allowed just two runs over 26 innings, ending the series with 20 straight scoreless innings. Two rookies, Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez, each tossed seven scoreless innings over the weekend.
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Baltimore’s hot run could continue for a while as the Orioles began a 10-game homestand against the Seattle Mariners on Monday. All 10 of those games are against teams currently below .500, with the Royals and Red Sox on deck after Seattle.
And if any of those 10 games go extra innings, you can almost mark down a Baltimore win in ink. The Orioles' 1-0 victory in 10 innings at Tampa Bay on Sunday was their 11th straight win in games that went to extra innings (since April 16). That's the longest extra-inning winning streak in franchise history and longest for any major-league team since the Indians won 14 in a row, spanning the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
The Orioles and Rays likely will be in a dogfight for the second wild-card spot with whichever team finishes second in the AL Central between the White Sox and Tigers – I am presuming the AL West runner-up, probably the Angels, nabs one spot.
Tampa Bay can pitch but not hit much. The Rays’ pitchers lead the majors in ERA, strikeouts and opponent’s batting average since the all-star break, and closer Fernando Rodney has been untouchable. That struggling offense might get a huge boost on Tuesday with the return of third baseman Evan Longoria. He has been out since April 30 with a partially torn left hamstring but has made eight rehab starts in Triple-A. However, each of his appearances has been as the designated hitter, and he isn't likely to see action in the field when he does return to the majors. In 23 games prior to the injury, Longoria was batting .329 with four homers and 19 RBI. Rays Manager Joe Maddon said Monday that it was 50-50 that Longoria would be activated Tuesday when Tampa Bay begins a home series with Toronto.
Staying in the AL wild-card chase, I think the Oakland A’s are about to come crashing back to earth. After being scorching hot in July, the A’s are 2-3 this month entering Monday’s game vs. the Angels. Oakland just put starter A.J. Griffin on the disabled list with shoulder tightness and might have to make a change at closer. Rookie Ryan Cook gave up tying home runs in the ninth inning on Friday and Saturday against Toronto. Overall, he's blown four of his last six save opportunities (his ERA is 9.00 in his past six appearances), and his seven for the season are the most in the American League. Cook is one of 11 rookie pitchers the A’s have used this season.
It could be a losing week for Oakland as after hosting the Halos the A’s visit the White Sox and Oakland will be a series dog in both (+130 vs. the Angels). Like the Orioles, you shouldn’t bet against the A’s if the game goes extra innings. Oakland is 7-0 this season in games lasting 12 innings or longer (including two 15-inning victories last week).
The team you don’t want to bet on in an extra-inning game? That would be the St. Louis Cardinals. They are 3-7 in extra-inning games, the most extra-inning losses among teams with winning records. Usually run differential is a great way to gauge how good a team really is, and the Cards lead the majors in that category. But more often than not, St. Louis is all-or-nothing. The Cardinals are 12-18 in one-run games, tied for the most losses among teams with winning records, and have seven walk-off losses, which is the third most in MLB. The Cards are just 9-36 this season when scoring three or fewer runs and 16-29 in games decided by two runs or fewer. By comparison, the NL Central-leading Reds are 33-22 in games decided by two runs or fewer.
The Cardinals swept the Brewers over the weekend, but this week will be a major challenge with four games vs. San Francisco and then three at Philadelphia. That means those Cardinal bats have to face the likes of Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
Meanwhile, consider backing the Houston Astros this weekend in their home series vs. Milwaukee. The Brewers, who open the week with a three-game home set vs. Cincinnati, have lost nine straight road games since the all-star break. Milwaukee is the first MLB team to lose its first nine road games immediately following an all-star break since Kansas City in 2002 (nine in a row). The Brewers are the first National League team to do so since the 1963 Mets (10 straight).
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