This week, I caught up with Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, who has been on the team longer than any other player. We talked about him playing important late-season games, the team's defense, the competitive AL East, and the difference in Baltimore's organization as opposed to his early years with the team.
Q: How exciting has it been for you to play these meaningful games this late in the season?
BR: Yeah, I haven't done it at all. This is definitely what you play for. You want to be in a situation to compete late in the season for a playoff spot, and once the playoffs start anything can happen. So, it's definitely exciting to play meaningful games.
Q: Is it as great as you thought it would be when you were watching the team do it last year?
BR: Yeah, it's exciting watching but it's more exciting playing. I was happy for them and enjoyed it last year, but it's even better when you can be on the field.
Q: The team has a lot of series against AL East opponents the rest of the season. How important will it be to try to win as many of those series as possible?
BR: You just need to win games period from here on out, no matter who you're playing. We know that in most ways you control your own destiny. We don't have to wait on somebody to lose, we just need to go out and win games. And if we do that, we'll probably end up in a pretty good spot.
Q: How tough will it be to do that considering how tough the schedule is the rest of the way?
BR: You always know that the way the schedules are for the most part you're going to play your division at the end of the year. And so you know that wherever you are, you have chance to either make up ground or gain ground wherever you are. I think it's good for fans, I think it's good for us when you can play the teams that are certainly affecting what's going to happen to you more than anything.
Q: How important has the defense been to this team's success this season?
BR: I think pitching and defense will win you championships every year. You play good defense, you got a good chance of winning every night. The one thing you can't do at this level is give extra outs too often, and we've done a really good job of that. But obviously there's some other things we've got to do well at the same time. We think we're in a good spot, but if we keep playing good defense, that gives your pitchers confidence to throw strikes, to be aggressive, to do the things you want to do on the mound.
Q: Now that you've had the chance to play in the infield with Manny Machado, how impressive is what he's been able to do defensively?
BR: He's phenomenal. Definitely the best I've ever played with, for sure. Just the athletic ability as well as the athletic ability to make great plays, but the concentration to make routine plays on a daily basis. It's fun to watch. Every night you kind of think you're going to see something you haven't seen before.Q: Do you think this is the best defensive team you've ever played on?
BR: Yeah, definitely. When you just look at everybody that's out there, you look at Wiety [Matt Wieters] behind the plate, Manny's going to win a Gold Glove at some point, J.J. [Hardy] obviously. CD [Chris Davis] has played a tremendous first base and then a lot of the time, if Nate's [McLouth] in the outfield, you've got three Gold Glove outfielders. It doesn't get a whole lot better than that.
Q: You've been playing designated hitter more this year than you used to. Do you feel that's helping to keep you fresh?
BR: We don't really talk about it much. I just told [Buck Showalter] wherever he wants to put my name, I'll go do it. I think at this point you're just excited to be playing. Nobody's really fresh at this point. You're just battling. Everybody is. Wherever my name is, that's fine with me.
Q: How different is the organization and the crowd atmosphere from where it was back in your early playing days?
BR: I think the difference is, 2001 when I first got called up, this place was still pretty full most nights, it was Cal's [Ripken Jr.] last year, this place was still pretty full most nights. And then it started to dwindle and trickle away the farther we got removed from that. And now, our clubhouse as you can tell is very loose, we have a good time. But at the same time, when we get on the field, we do things the right way. Buck and our management has brought, I think, a tremendous atmosphere.
And now that we've been winning, the fans are showing up, and anytime this place is full of black and orange I think it's one of the best places to play.