It’s starting to look like the Orioles are going to get through their 10-game West Coast road trip with their playoff hopes still intact, despite a couple of missed opportunities that would have moved them to the top of the list of middling wild-card wannabes.
They play well, and then they don’t, which is pretty much what all the also-rans in the top-heavy American League seem to be doing — treading water and hoping against hope that they aren’t really circling the drain.
The Orioles keep flirting with .500 and falling back at a time when burning clock is not a great idea, but they will soon be in position to make a move on their wild-card rivals and there are reasons to believe they might be ready to do just that.
Hold the derisive laughter. There are a lot of fans holding on to their well-earned cynicism and they have every right. This whole season has been a big tease, the Orioles beginning with that inexplicable great start and emerging from the disappointing middle months to attain a frustrating equilibrium that has persisted through a long and precarious far west swing.
It is not unreasonable to assume that what you see is what you’re going to get the rest of the way, but a little guarded optimism at this point isn’t unreasonable either, at least as it pertains to the possibility of engaging in the franchise’s third one-game wild-card playoff.
They get to hunker down at home: Beginning with their Camden Yards 25th anniversary weekend against the Los Angeles Angels starting Friday, the Orioles play 16 of 19 games at Oriole Park. They’ve been gone so long, you’ve probably forgotten that they’ve got the third-best home record in the American League. Of the five teams they’ll play at home over that span, only the Angels and New York Yankees currently have winning records.
Magic Manny is back: Manny Machado spent much of the season trying to get his batting average back above .220. Now, he’s overcompensating for that and climbing furiously up the RBI list. He’s now on pace to finish the season with 32 home runs and a career-high 101 RBIs, and it should be a lot of fun watching him get there.
Finally, an adequate rotation: We’ve reached the point where it’s OK to believe the improved performance of the Orioles starters is not just designed to raise false hope. Dylan Bundy is the real thing and Kevin Gausman is having another turnaround second half. The addition of Jeremy Hellickson gives the club three dependable starters and a couple of once-struggling veterans who have pitched pretty well lately, but still deserve your skepticism.
Schoop and Mancini are for real: Jonathan Schoop would be the Orioles MVP if the season were to end today and Trey Mancini might be Rookie of the Year if Aaron Judge had not been delivered to the Yankees from another planet with powers far beyond those of mortal men. The good news is that neither Schoop nor Mancini are way out over their cleats. They are who they are and no one has yet been able to slow their roll.
The sleeping giants are stirring: Chris Davis woke up in Oakland and Seattle, and entered Tuesday night’s game with six hits and five RBIs in his past 13 at-bats. Mark Trumbo, who was mired in an 0-for-20 drought when he went on the disabled list, rejoined the team on the road trip and entered Tuesday night’s game looking to extend a five-game hitting streak.
The bullpen is back at full strength: Zach Britton and Brad Brach need to get into a better rhythm, but that should come with increased opportunities if the Orioles can take advantage of all that home cooking the next three weeks.
The new kid off the trading block: Obviously, it’s also impossible to ignore what newly acquired shortstop Tim Beckham has been doing at the plate, where he has provided a huge spark wherever he has hit in the batting order. It would be silly to bank on him hitting .500 much longer, but his speed and aggressiveness won’t take a lot of days off.
Now, if Adam Jones can just pull on his captain pants and point the way, the Orioles just might be more than a long shot to sneak into the playoffs for the fourth time in six seasons. If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that stranger things have happened.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.