Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about beating the Mariners and sweeping the series. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
The Orioles' seven-game winning streak — the longest active streak in the major leagues — has suddenly put them within arm's reach of the second American League wild-card spot, a place that seemed like a pipe dream the last time the Orioles played a series with the Mariners.
Two weeks ago, the Orioles boarded a plane back to Baltimore after dropping two of three in Seattle to conclude a losing West Coast trip. At that point, six teams — including the Mariners — were ahead of the Orioles in the chase for the final playoff spot.
The teams have gone in opposite directions since, and, after their 8-7 win over the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon, the Orioles are now 1 1/2 games out of the second AL wild-card spot.
"To be honest, I don't follow [the standings] much, but today I see the standings and you know, we're right there," said second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who drove in the winning run with a two-out single in the eighth inning and hit his 30th home run of the season. "So, we just got to keep winning and we just got to go out there and compete and don't worry about the stats too much. Just try to go out there and win and win and we're going to be there."
Castillo's four hits included an RBI double in the second and a two-run homer in the fourth.Over his past 19 games, he is hitting. 400 (28-for-70) with seven homers and 20 RBIs.
The Orioles (68-65) have won nine of 12 since ending that trip, including their past seven straight with back-to-back three-game sweeps — first against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, then against the Mariners at Camden Yards. In the process, they've jumped the Mariners (66-68) in the wild-card standings, handing them their fifth straight loss and ending Seattle's 12-game road trip wearily with a 5-7 record.
"What's really tough, you come through the emotion of winning three games at Fenway and then come back home and there's another challenge of a team that you're trying to catch ahead of you," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But it's that time of year. You can see the finish line a little bit now."
The Orioles are starting to come together as the final full month of the season looms. With two games remaining in August, they have 17 wins, their most of any month this season (they were 15-7 in April).
"That's the team that I've seen before when I wasn't here," said catcher Welington Castillo, who anchored the offense, tying his career high with four hits. "Everything is working out now. The pitchers are pitching better, we're hitting better, playing defense better — everything is definitely going better for us. That's the kind of team that I've seen playing before."
With Wednesday's win, the Orioles moved within a game of the second wild-card position. The Minnesota Twins routed the Chicago White Sox, 11-1, on Wednesday night, returning the gap to 1 1/2 games.
"I don't know about me," Showalter said, when asked whether he's been waiting for his team to put together a winning streak after spending most of the past three months in mediocrity. "I think we have. I think the players have. They know. It's a very mature group, and they've been through these battles in August and September. This is a battle-tested team, and I think they realize what has to happen for us to get an opportunity to roll the dice in October. And there's a lot of bridges to cross, obviously. "We're still not where we need to be."
With four homers Wednesday, the Orioles have hit 55 in August, matching last year's major league record they tied in June 2016.
The Orioles rallied from a 6-2 deficit after three innings with five unanswered runs before the game was tied again when Mitch Haniger homered off right-hander Brad Brach in the top of the eighth. In the bottom half, Schoop scored pinch runner Caleb Joseph from second on a two-out single up the middle off reliever Christian Bergman.
"You know, we got a really good team," Schoop said. "We know if we're down, we're going to come back and we're going to do our best, grind it out and turn the score around back. And we know we can do it."
Schoop's hit came after Joseph was initially doubled up off second base after Tim Beckham's lineout to shortstop. The call was overturned after it was challenged by Showalter and reviewed for just 38 seconds.
Trey Mancini, Craig Gentry and Schoop also homered, all off Ariel Miranda, who has allowed 35 homers in his first full major league season since the Orioles traded him to Seattle for left-hander Wade Miley at last year's nonwaiver trade deadline.
The Orioles' rally from four runs back was initiated in the fourth inning by Castillo's 16th homer of the season and fourth in his past seven games. Gentry followed with his second homer of the season, giving the Orioles back-to-back homers for the 11th time this season.
Schoop's homer in the fifth inning tied the game at 6, and Manny Machado's sacrifice fly in the sixth gave the Orioles a 7-6 lead.
The team's last loss came Aug. 22 in right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez's previous start, and the Orioles had to overcome his second-shortest start of the season Wednesday to win.
Jiménez received a quick hook, pulled after just 2 2/3 innings in a 4-2 game. He was charged with six runs in the third when the frame unraveled after Nelson Cruz's bases-loaded grounder up the middle — a ball that could have been an inning-ending double play — ricocheted off second base and into shallow left field for a two-run single.
Jiménez — who has allowed five runs or more in three straight starts — couldn't overcome that bad break. Despite striking out Kyle Seager with the bases loaded, he allowed a two-out, two-run double to Haniger that chased him from the game, and was charged with two more runs when a bloop single by Mike Zunino, whom Jiménez had struck out on three pitches in his first at-bat, dropped into shallow center field between Adam Jones and shortstop Beckham to put the Orioles down 6-2.
But right-hander Miguel Castro threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings to allow the Orioles to get back into the game. It marked Castro's fifth straight multiple-inning scoreless outing as the bullpen allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings, capped by Zach Britton's scoreless ninth for his 13th save and second straight converted opportunity since his AL-record 60-game save streak ended Aug. 23.