TORONTO — For the first time in four days, the Orioles will be able to sleep in today.
The O's played three straight afternoon games this Labor Day weekend. They also played a 12:35 p.m. game Thursday before taking the train to New York.
The structure of the schedule isn't fair -- manager Buck Showalter lets us know that often -- but now that the Orioles ended that run of afternoon games with a 4-0 shutout win over the Blue Jays, they can actually rest a bit before tonight's game.
"It was the first time I think I've played four out of five days games," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "It was a little bit different and it will be nice to get a day and a half before we play tomorrow. It's almost like a built-in off day in the middle of a series."
Credit Joe Saunders for rebounding from a tough Orioles debut Wednesday. Saunders said he didn't feel like his stuff was much better than other days, but his results obviously were. In retiring the first 17 hitters of the game, he only threw seven first-pitch strikes, but he was committed to pounding his fastball down in the zone against the Blue Jays lineup he knew was going to swing often.
He took a perfect game into the sixth inning -- we've also seen Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen take no hitters deep into games this season -- and Saunders said he thought about holding the Blue Jays hitless in the first inning. Not surprising that he took note, especially after allowing 10 hits and seven runs in his first Orioles start.
"I thought about it after the first, 'Nice, I didn't give up a hit in the first,'" Saunders said. "I always want to set the tone early and it's nice to go out there and put up a zero in the first. That's something I've really focused on this year. Sometimes it doesn't happen but this is first game of the series and you really want to set the tone and give your team the chance to win."
Saunders' ability to keep his sinker down will be a key to his success, and Wieters said his location with that pitch was much better. It's the difference between it coming in at the thigh and the knee, Wieters said.
It was a big outing for Saunders. It kept the Orioles' bullpen in good shape. And now expect some more reinforcements. I expect Jason Hammel to come off the DL to start Thursday, creating the likelihood of a six-man rotation moving forward as long as Chris Tillman's elbow soreness doesn't shelf him. It wouldn't hurt to give pitchers like Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez an extra day off. They've both shown they benefit from extra rest.
Right-hander Tommy Hunter has rejoined the team to work out of the 'pen, and expect Jake Arrieta to do the same. Zach Phillips offers another left-handed relief arm.
The bottom line: The Orioles could conceivably end today tied for first place in the AL East. Take a second to let that marinate. When the O's went to New York at the end of July, Showalter first dropped the team's new mantra that this team wasn't playing for a wild card -- they had their eyes on the division. They left the Bronx 6 1/2 games back, so at that point it still seemed like wishful thinking.
But now, the Orioles are right there. And they will have the opportunity to control their own fate. Take care of business here in Toronto and they have four games against the hobbling Yankees in Baltimore, followed by a three-game series aganst Tampa Bay at Camden Yards.
After playing catch-up for most of the past two months, the Orioles have now put themselves in a situation where their own play will dictate their playoff fate.