Schmuck: O's must pick the low-hanging fruit in Toronto

The Baltimore Sun

Take nothing away from the terrific performance by Joe Saunders on Monday afternoon at Rogers Centre that pulled the O’s to within a game of first place in the American League East, but it was obvious that the Blue Jays are vulnerable and the O’s need to take full advantage of them in the final two games of the series.

Saunders was sharp and mixed his pitches effectively, which plays well anywhere against anyone, but the Jays are so ready for this season to end that the hitters might as well have been carrying their suitcases to home plate.

They’ll look like that again tonight if Zach Britton can shut them down for a couple of innings and the Orioles can put a run or two up early against Jays starter Carlos Villanueva, who has pitched very well since entering the rotation but lost to the Orioles in his only start against them of 2012.

It’s particularly important that the Orioles do not let up on the gas right now, because a couple more victories could be very important going into the four-game series against the Yankees that starts on Thursday after the Cal Ripken statue unveiling at Camden Yards. The Yankees could be almost back to full strength if Mark Teixeira is ready to play, so a four-game set is loaded with both opportunity and danger for the Orioles.

Picking up another game in the standings and pulling alongside the Yankees would certainly add some more intrigue to an already huge series, but – more importantly – it would reduce the risk level of that series in relation to the division race and give the Orioles a solid opportunity to wake up Monday morning in first place.

Of course, all this should be obvious, but the Orioles continue to squander opportunities to put games away when they can, which is why they aren’t tied for first place right now. They kept Monday’s game in doubt way too long, wasting a first-and-third, no-out situation and a bases-loaded, one-out situation that could have turned the game into a walkover. It looked a lot like Saturday’s game in New York, when they couldn’t put the Yankees away and take full advantage of a strong start by Wei-Yin Chen, but – fortunately – the Blue Jays aren’t the Yankees.

Which is why they remain ripe for the picking the next two nights.

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