2:13 PM EDT, July 31, 2013
The Orioles have just begun a stretch of 11 straight games against four of the losingest teams in baseball, and center fielder Adam Jones isn’t afraid to call out himself and his teammates for the way they have failed to store up wins against the teams that a contending club is supposed to beat.
It’s time, he says, for the Orioles to show who they are against the teams who aren’t.
“I don’t know what that’s attributed to, but this is a part of the season where the good teams start to separate themselves,’’ Jones said. “If you want to be in the playoff push and continue the conversation into September, these are games you look back on, this is a part of the season that you look back on and say ‘If we had won these games, we could be ... if, if, if.’ Right now, let’s not create the ifs, let’s go out there and do.”
It’s a strange contrast. The Orioles entered this stretch against the Astros, Mariners, Padres and Giants – four teams that are a combined 59 games below .500 – with just a 24-24 record against teams that currently are under water. By contrast, the O’s are 11 games over .500 against winning teams.
Jones considers it a call to arms, especially after the Orioles stumbled last week and fell five games behind the streaking Tampa Bay Rays and 4 ½ games behind the Red Sox.
“Our next 11 games are against teams that are under .500,’’ he said before Tuesday night’s series-opening victory over the last-place Astros. “We have to take advantage of that. Not saying we’re going to go 11-0. That would be nice, but we need to take advantage of that part of the schedule. We need to have a very strong, strong record over the next week and a half in order to put ourselves into that conversation, ‘Are these guys contenders or pretenders?’”
There’s no question the Orioles are contenders. They remain in possession of the second American League wild card slot, though the Indians have won six straight games to pull within a half-game of them. Holding their place and improving on it could well depend on what happens over the next two weeks.
Don’t expect anyone on a team managed by Buck Showalter to overlook an opponent. Jones knows that making hay against the Astros – in spite of the worst record in either league – is not going to be easy. The Orioles had to rally from a 3-0 deficit to take the first game of the series at Camden Yards.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re playing the Astros and the Mariners are coming up. ... These are games we’re going to win easily,’” Jones said. “You say that and you will be swept. We’ve got to go up there and we have to bully them. Take advantage of them. I’m not going to say we’re physically better, but we’re the better overall team. We’re the more experienced team. So, this is the part of the schedule we have to know that we’re better and win these games. These are games that we need to win. They aren’t games that we’re going to win. They are games that we need to win.”
So, how does anyone explain the way the Orioles have handled great teams such as the Tigers and Red Sox, while struggling against the Padres, Twins and Royals?
“You can’t take these guys lightly, because the Astros come out ready to play,’’ Jones said. “I know they aren’t the high-priced guys. Most of their guys are on the minimum, under a year’s service or under two year’s service. Those guys have nothing to lose and they come out and they let it fly and they play the game as hard as anybody in baseball.”
Jones knows how that feels. It wasn’t that long ago that he was one of those guys playing for a team that was looking up at everybody else. He doesn’t want to go back there. He doesn’t even want to go back to the wild-card round of the playoffs.
“I don’t want to be a wild card team,’’ he said. “I want the East. When we played that game last year, it was cool for baseball. It was cool that it was the first time they did it. And that was the way we were able to get into the playoffs. It was awesome. But winning the division is the mindset. It’s within reach. It’s just that we’ve got to go out and take it.”
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