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Orioles trying not to succumb to on-field volatility as playoff races intensify

This stretch of August is around when, in Orioles manager Buck Showalter's mind, that division races start to shake themselves out and the teams who don't deserve to be floating around the playoff positions sink out of contention.

That hasn't happened so far in the American League East, but perhaps that knowledge — that this is the time, good or bad, when teams show who they are — is why so much soaring faith and sinking fatalism have flown around the Orioles as they wrap up one of the more volatile weeks any playoff aspirant can have in August.

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The highs that followed their seven-run comeback victory in San Francisco last Sunday and the six-homer show they put on in beating the Houston Astros at home Thursday bolstered the idea that this is a team built to beat any team on its day.

The interceding home sweep at the hands of the Boston Red Sox and the nightmare collapse Friday that turned a game that started with four home runs into a brutal loss accentuate why such doubt about the Orioles' chances persist.

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Where does the truth lie? The only ones not wondering are the Orioles themselves.

"We're a team where people find things to pick on us," center fielder Adam Jones said. "We're not doing this well, we're not doing that well. What are we doing well? I'm just saying, it's always something. If we're pitching good, we're not hitting good. If we're hitting good, we're not pitching good. It's always something. We go out and give our effort every single day. Does everybody in life do that? No."

The Orioles insist they are the wave that their fans ride, not the riders themselves. It's an important distinction as the calendar approaches September and the game's final score is instinctually followed by its resulting effect on the division standings.

"We're just so focused on what we have to do," closer Zach Britton said. "I think we've gotten to the point now where what people are saying about us, the fans, the ups and downs of the season, that's what being a fan is. We're away from baseball, if we're a fan of a football team or hockey team, you ride the wave of the team. For the players in the clubhouse, you can't have those waves if you want to be successful. That's the reason why people got here: consistency. You don't get too high, you don't get too low. It's not for us to ride those waves; it's to be consistent."

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It's not a uniquely Orioles problem, and considering they entered Saturday 67-54 and holding onto a playoff spot, how big of a problem is passionate but volatile fans anyway? In Boston, where the Red Sox began the day 68-53 and a half-game behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, every loss is met with calls for manager John Farrell to lose his job. It's perceived that the first-place Blue Jays are underachieving.

The difference between the three AL East aspirants is that the Orioles are the only ones who weren't forecasted to make it this far. Those who rail in February about the prognostications that the team might not have enough pitching, or that their lineup is too boom or bust, are finding tinges of truth to that.

The starting rotation was markedly better the first four weeks out of the All-Star break thanks to the addition of Dylan Bundy and the subtraction of Ubaldo Jimenez, but has endured some difficult starts of late to reopen that wound. The offense averaged a 5.08 runs per game before the break, and 3.88 runs in the first 34 games after it, and is far too reliant on home runs. Through 121 games, exactly half of the Orioles' 574 runs have come on their league-high 188 home runs, third-highest ratio in baseball.

Britton and Showalter stress consistency in demeanor, even if everything about the team's roster construction lends itself to inconsistent play from day to day, week to week, and beyond.

Showalter's constant refrain is that his men focus on the former, not the latter.

"The smart aleck answer is we don't have any choice, you know?" Showalter said. "If you don't [turn the page], what happens? It's such a snowball game. … The talent level is so good here, there's so many things. Mentality plays into it so much. … Our guys are so tunnel vision trying to have a better record than anyone else in our division."

All that means internally is there isn't much carryover, positive or negative, from the moments that have seemed seminal at the time. When second baseman Jonathan Schoop homered to seal Sunday's comeback against the Giants, a possible signature victory over the course of a season, Britton insists there's no carryover, just like there's none Saturday after the Orioles hit five home runs and still lost by eight runs the night before.

It won't get any easier, or the stakes any lower, or the emotions directed their way more measured. Toronto and Boston are the opponents in 13 of their 40 remaining games, with four games against the National League East-leading Washington Nationals and 12 contests with the wild card-chasing Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees.

"It's been such a long season that not one thing stands out," Britton said. "It's kind of part of the grind. We've been there the last few years and had those moments where we're like, 'We need to turn it up. We need to win.' … Especially last year, the grind of trying to get to the postseason. That's where we are right now. There are three really good teams in our division. Any day, one of the three can be in first place. It's very easy to get caught up in the madness, but we don't."

twitter.com/JonMeoli

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