By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
7:30 AM EDT, June 13, 2014
I realize that it is almost comical to be checking the American League East standings right now.
These teams, with the exception of the surprisingly bad Tampa Bay Rays, are bunched up. And they will play each other so many more times in the next three-plus months that they likely will be jockeying for position until late September.
Still, the Orioles (34-31) entered Thursday chasing the first-place Toronto Blue Jays (39-29), with a four-game sweep putting the Orioles just a half-game back. A sweep the other way, and the Orioles are back to .500 and reeling as they embark on a six-game road trip against two more division rivals, Tampa Bay and New York.
So, calendar or not, this is a pretty important series. And, on paper, Thursday’s game was probably the one that tilted most toward the Blue Jays. Their ace this year, 10-game-winner Mark Buehrle, was facing rookie Kevin Gausman, who was starting for the third time this season.
So the 4-2 Orioles’ win has to be satisfying, at least until Ubaldo Jimenez takes the mound Friday night, looking for his first win at home this year. (He is 0-5 with a 7.04 ERA in six games at Camden Yards as an Oriole).
“We knew, coming into this, the whole homestand was big for us. Especially finishing up a homestand with four games with the guys you are trailing,” right fielder Nick Markakis said. “Every game from here on out counts. And we did a good job getting Game 1. That was our main objective.”
** As for Markakis, he hit a nice milestone Thursday. His seventh-inning double gave him 1,452 hits for his career, passing Brian Roberts for seventh on the Orioles’ all-time list. He’ll catch Ken Singleton this week — he needs just two more hits to tie the former All Star right fielder — and move into sixth all time.
Unless he has a great second half, he’ll probably stay there this year. Boog Powell is fifth with 1,574 hits. The real question is whether Markakis will be in an Orioles uniform next year to climb even higher.
He and the club have a $17.5 million mutual option for 2015. Those are almost never exercised, because players and management rarely agree on the value of a player.
I think it’s hard to rationalize that Markakis, who will be 31 in October, is worth $17.5 million to the Orioles in 2015; fangraphs.com projects he’ll end this season batting .292 with 14 homers, 76 RBIs and a .354 on-base percentage. Those are solid numbers, but not worth $17.5 million for a corner outfielder.
But I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone throws a ton of money at Markakis. Curtis Granderson, who has more pop than Markakis but isn’t as durable, doesn’t hit for average and strikes out a bunch., got a four-year, $60 million contract from the New York Mets this offseason.
The bottom line is that Markakis has been in the organization since 2003, has been with the club since 2006 and is an Oriole all the way through. But in the wacky world of free agency, it is going to take some real money to keep him moving up the club’s all-time ranks.
** Kevin Gausman earned another start with his performance Thursday (five hits, three walks, one run in six innings) against a good-hitting Blue Jays club.
No question that Gausman has great stuff, but I want to see him be more economic with his pitches. The Blue Jays this year have somewhat shed their reputation as free-swingers and are much more patient than they've been in the past, but they still will take their hacks. And Gausman needs to continue to attack the strike zone.
He threw 101 pitches in six innings Thursday after 102 in seven innings Saturday against the Oakland Athletics. In his first start, in May against the Detroit Tigers, he threw 87 pitches in just four innings. So the improvement is there, but it needs to keep coming.
If he can continue to refine that part of his game, watch out.
** And in the most pressing and important part of this piece, yes, new closer Zach Britton’s entrance music is AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).”
That song — and, admittedly, it’s on my iPod — came out in 1981. Britton was born in 1987. So what gives?
Well, Britton said his father loved AC/DC and used to play “For Those About to Rock” and another song from AC/DC, “The Jack,” over and over again, to the chagrin of Britton’s mother. (Side note: Let’s just say that the subject matter of “The Jack" is not what a mom wants her preteen kid to inquire about).
And so, in spring training, Britton decided to pay tribute to his dad and go with a cool, classic rock tune when he took the mound. It went unnoticed — until he started closing games. Now, when the Orioles have a close lead, the ninth begins with AC/DC blaring (and saluting).
So there you go.
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