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Despite four-game skid, Orioles hit the road in first place

The Orioles are in the exact same place they were when their current four-game losing streak began – atop the American League East standings.

As the Orioles open their four-game series in Kansas City tonight, they will still hold a half-game lead over the Red Sox and Yankees.

The top four teams in the division are separated by 1 ½ games. Last-place Tampa Bay is just 3 ½ back.

That’s what makes every series so critical in the AL East. The Orioles' current skid would have been much more painful has it not been for their season-high five-game winning streak last week.

And ultimately, that’s what this division will come down to, which team can separate itself from the pack with a long winning streak while the other teams batter each other.

Last year’s Orioles put together one six-game winning streak, but otherwise seemed to trade wins and losses, while other teams in the division built some long winning streaks.

This weekend’s series in Kansas City is an important one. The Orioles need to build momentum after a rough series against Detroit. Last year, the Orioles dropped three of four at Kauffman Stadium and the Orioles are 3-9 against the AL Central this season.

Since there was no save opportunity in the Orioles’ 7-5 loss to Detroit on Wednesday, we still don’t know whether manager Buck Showalter will turn to Tommy Hunter in the ninth the next time there’s an opportunity.

He talked Wednesday about track record. He said since that Jim Johnson had a track record from 2012, when he saved 51 of 54 games, he stuck with him throughout a season that saw him blow nine saves.

Hunter doesn’t have that track record as a closer.

More importantly what’s the alternative? It’s turning to another closing candidate who has never been called upon in the ninth before.

Showalter said he has hoped he would get five or six innings from right-hander Kevin Gausman on Wednesday in his first big league start of the season. Given the fact that Gausman has recorded a five-inning outing just one in eight starts at Triple-A because of a pitch count made that expectation tough to meet.

Gausman lasted just four innings and was relieved by Miguel Gonzalez. Showalter said he wanted to pull Gausman at around 85 pitches. He threw 87 pitches on Wednesday.

Gausman was scheduled to make the trip to Kansas City with the club, but Showalter said he didn’t know what the next step for him was. He also needs to figure out when he can next pitch Gonzalez.

Gausman saw success early against the Tigers by pounded the bottom of the zone with a power sinker that topped at 98 mph. But he didn’t have his split-finger fastball. His fastball started rising in the zone and the Tigers made him pay in a three-run fifth. 

What do you do with Gausman now? Send him to Norfolk where he can continue to build up innings or keep him in the big leagues?

We might find out tonight.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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