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Thoughts and observations on the Orioles' sweep of the Braves and the wild-card race

A few weeks ago, we were talking about how the Orioles rely too much on the home run, but when their starting pitching is able to accomplish what it has over their current five-game winning streak, a few solo homers will do the job.

Going back to their 3-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday – a game in which the Orioles took a one-run lead into the eighth – Orioles starters have posted a 4-0 record and 1.25 ERA with five quality starts.

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On Wednesday, right-hander Chris Tillman was just one out away from posting the team's first complete-game shutout since last Sept. 3. Regardless, Tillman's 8 2/3 scoreless innings was one of the Orioles' finest starts of the season.

What we saw from the Orioles this series is something we haven't seen much of this season, the ability to win low-scoring games. Before playing the Braves, the Orioles lost 37 of 43 in which they scored four runs or fewer. But in sweeping the Braves, the Orioles won two games in which they scored just two runs.

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On Monday, the Orioles took a 2-1 decision in 11 innings on Matt Wieters' walk-off homer. On Wednesday, all they needed was solo homers from Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy – and a superb performance from Tillman – to beat the Braves, 2-0.

Schoop, whose solo homer in the third inning opened the scoring for the Orioles, continued to give the team some big home runs. The Orioles are now an impressive 23-2 in games in which Schoop homers. Ten of Schoop's 22 hits this season have been for extra bases.

Hardy, whose solo homer came in the fourth inning, extended his hitting streak to 12 games -- his longest since a 13-game streak from May 3-18, 2013 – also tying the longest by an Oriole this season.

Grain of salt time, the Orioles accomplished this against two teams that have struggled to score runs. The Braves are 12th out of 15 National League teams in runs scored. They're also last in the NL in homers. And Tampa Bay, the team the Orioles took two of three from over the weekend, are second-last in runs scored in the American League.

Still, right when many had given up on the Orioles' season, demanding the team go into sell mode to rebuild for the future, they are just one game back of the Minnesota Twins for the second AL wild-card spot. They also picked up a game on the division-leading Yankees, now sitting six games back of New York.

The wild-card race is getting interesting. The Twins have lost eight of their past 10. Division-rivals Toronto and Tampa Bay are just behind the Orioles in the wild-card race, two games and 2½ games back, respectively. Also keep an eye out for the surging Chicago White Sox, who are winners of seven straight and sit just 2½ games out of the second wild-card spot.

Including the Orioles, there are six teams within four games of the second wild-card spot.

One of those teams is Detroit, which arrives at Camden Yards for a four-game series starting Thursday as a team in limbo. They're very much still in the race, just 3 1/2 games out of the wild card, but the Tigers have declared they're listening to offers on left-hander David Price, who is slated to start Sunday's series finale against the Orioles (if he's still in a Tigers uniform by then).

The Orioles have played very well at home, winning five of their past seven series at Camden Yards, and they took two of three against the Tigers in Detroit coming out of the all-star break.

eencina@baltsun.com
twitter.com/EddieInTheYard

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