With Wednesday's 6-0 win over the Kansas City Royals, the Orioles picked up their fifth straight win and continued their miniature resurgence that coincided with the acquisition of Jeremy Hellickson and has brought them back within 2½ games of a playoff spot, albeit in early August.
Their fifth straight victory put them one shy of their longest streak of the season, which came in early May — as they jumped out to a major league-best 22-10 start before a two-month skid put their season in jeopardy. That they swept a Kansas City club that had won 10 of 11 before coming to Camden Yards made it plenty satisfying for manager Buck Showalter.
“We talked about it in the advance meeting with the pitchers and the position players that we were facing probably as hot a team as there was in the American League, and they’re pitching [well],” Showalter said. “I’m proud of that, knowing as we get into August and September, knowing the opportunities to make up some ground are going to be fleeting. I don’t need to remind them of that. But it was a good team playing well and we held our own against them.”
Now a game below .500 at 53-54, the Orioles enter a four-game series against the Detroit Tigers to kick off a stretch of three weeks against mostly sub-.500 opponents in which they hope to continue to ride a wave of strong starting pitching back to relevance. Over their past five starts, Orioles starters have combined to allow three earned runs in 35 2/3 innings.
“Pitching is so hard,” Showalter said. “To put together long runs of good pitching out of five or six guys is really a challenge. But right now they seem to be feeding off each other.”
An RBI double by newly acquired shortstop Tim Beckham and a two-run home run by catcher Caleb Joseph in the second inning staked the Orioles to as big of a lead as they'd need thanks to seven scoreless innings from Hellickson (7-5).
That didn't stop them from adding three insurance runs in the eighth on a two-run double by first baseman Chris Davis and an RBI triple by Beckham.
Beckham and designated hitter Trey Mancini had two hits apiece. Beckham drove in a pair while Mancini scored twice in the win.
Joseph said the five-game winning streak more closely mirrors the type of baseball that the Orioles set out to play and did early, but eluded them in the middle part of the season.
“It hasn’t been exactly what we’ve wanted it to look like, but there’s still a never-quit [attitude],” Joseph said. “I know we can say it until we’re blue in the face here, but you just never know. With the type of team we have, with the guys in here, the power of the lineup, the way the rotation is trending, the back end of the bullpen. We have the pieces to make a run at this, and we’ve always believed it. it just hasn’t gone our way in the first part. but we like the additions we’ve got, and hopefully it all jells and we can really make a run at this. We’re on a nice start, I’d say.”
Delayed, not denied: A 35-minute rain delay sent everyone at Camden Yards scurrying in the third inning Wednesday night, but neither pitcher seemed too impacted by the mid-game pause.
Hellickson needed a little time to get re-acclimated before getting out of the third unscathed, and his counterpart, Jason Vargas, came out of it strong as well.
Once Hellickson completed his seven innings, right-hander Mychal Givens lowered his ERA to 1.86 with a clean eighth inning and right-hander Darren O'Day pitched scoreless ninth.
Talk it out: Twice early Wednesday, the newest Orioles on the field seemed to be uneasy with what their teammates were doing defensively. In the first inning, Beckham cut off a ball up the middle that was bound for second baseman Jonathan Schoop and eliminated the possibility of a double play because his momentum took him past the bag.
An inning later, the Orioles were shifted toward the right side against designated hitter Mike Moustakas with third baseman Manny Machado near the shortstop position when there was a pop-up near the third base coaching box.
Hellickson took matters into his own hands and made the catch just above Machado's glove, narrowly avoiding a collision. Neither did any damage, but the moments represent the growing pains of breaking in new teammates.
Breaking the streak: Joseph's home run was the first at Camden Yards in the three-game series. That there were two games in a row here without a home run this year was a rarity. There had been two homerless games in the first 51 played in Baltimore before the two this week.