Five Orioles questions with ESPN Sunday Night Baseball announcer Dan Shulman

ESPN is bringing its Sunday Night Baseball crew to Baltimore this week to cover the final stop of New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's farewell tour at Camden Yards and, oh yeah, to showcase the first-place Orioles, who entered Friday's game 10 games up on the second-place Toronto Blue Jays and 4.5 games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in baseball.

ESPN was kind enough to hook us up with Sunday Night Baseball announcer Dan Shulman, who has called the Sunday showcases since 2011 and is one of the best in the game. I asked Shulman five questions about the Orioles, and it should be noted that I asked him about Orioles first baseman Chris Davis before news of his 25-game suspension for a positive amphetamine test was announced. We were on the phone as it happened, so that answer should be viewed through that context. Without further ado…


Does the depleted AL East take away at all from what you've seen the Orioles do this year?

No not really. They're winning the division handily, and I think they deserve a lot of credit for that. plus the fact they're doing it without [Matt] Wieters, and [Manny] Machado, with [Chris] Davis is struggling. It's not the vintage AL East, but it's not a disaster either. I think they deserve full credit for what they've done.

Speaking of Davis, what's the word you've heard on him around the league?

To be honest with you, the buzz I'd hear is when I'm doing their games. I think part of it has to be confidence. One of the things that maybe we underestimate, those of us who aren't professional athletes, I think we assume everything's always come easy for them and they're always confident. I don't think that's necessarily the case. I kind of believe that maybe he just didn't get off to a great start and maybe his confidence is in play now. That would be my best guess, but that's a difficult one for me to assess from afar.

Pitching wins in October, and you can't win without a good bullpen. Is the Orioles bullpen of the caliber we've seen from some past World Series champions, and if not, what does it need?

I think it's certainly one of the best bullpens around this year, and that's what matters the most. I think it's a great bullpen. Andrew Miller was a great pickup. [Zach] Britton has had a sensational year. They can bring in Hunter, and O'Day. They've got great depth, multiple righties, multiple lefties and a manager in Buck Showalter who manages a bullpen as well as anybody. It's one of the great strengths of this team and I don't think a lot of people around the country realize that.

Is there any matchup in the playoffs that you think the Orioles would like to avoid?

No, I wouldn't say that. I think they deserve to be where they are and the stack up well against any of the other contenders. They can beat any of them and any of them can beat Baltimore. They have a lot of power, but when you face really, really good pitching staffs, and you have to scratch out a run, I'm interested to see that situation. I think they'll be able to.

I don't think there's any time they need to stay away from. The Angels are playing incredibly well, but we've seen so many years where the teams that look the best going into October don't play the best in October. I think all you've got to do is get to October, then it's anybody's game.

Who is your Orioles MVP this year?

I think I would have to say Nelson Cruz. They've had a lot of good performances from a lot of players. The power that he's shown, especially with Wieters out, Davis hasn't had a good year, Machado out, what Cruz has done at the middle of that lineup has been incredible. I'd pick him.

Adam Jones is another guy who doesn't get the credit he deserves for being the player he is. He contributes every way you can contribute. Cruz has the better home run or RBI numbers, but when you consider everything Jones does, I think he also has a case.