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September 18, 2013

Direct Kick: O’s need one last push to make playoffs

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — If the Baltimore Orioles are going to make the post season this year, then their next two series will be crucial.

The O’s opened a three-game series at AL East leading Boston last night. The Red Sox hold what seems to be a comfortable lead of 9.5 games over second place Tampa Bay and 12 over third place Baltimore.

I have all but given up any hope of the Orioles winning the AL East, but that still doesn’t rule out the wild card, as they are only 2.5 games out of the second wild card slot, which is held by Tampa Bay, the team the O’s will face after the Boston series. Texas and Tampa are tied for the top wild card spot and Cleveland is only a half game out. New York and Kansas City are three and three and a half games out, respectively. This race will come down to the very last game of the season.

Baltimore holds its destiny in its own hands. Their final 13 games are all against AL East opponents. After the Tampa Bay series they are home for three games against Toronto and then a three-game season finale with Boston. I figure to at least make the wild card the Orioles will have to go 9-4 over that stretch. That would put them at 88-74. A sweep of Tampa Bay would be awesome. They can sweep Toronto, and for the past couple of years, they have had Boston’s number when it came to the final month of the season.

If they don’t make the playoffs, it won’t be because of hitting and defense. The O’s are fourth in runs, ninth in batting average and third in slugging percentage. They have one of the best offenses in all of baseball. And defensively, well, they have committed only 43 errors the entire season for a .992 fielding percentage. The infield of Chris Davis, Brian Roberts, JJ Hardy, Manny Machado and Matt Weiters have a total of 30. There will be a lot of gold gloves handed out to the O’s this year, as the outfield has Adams Jones with just two errors and Nick Markakis and Nate McLouth haven’t committed one all season.

No, it will be lack of pitching that dooms the Orioles this year. Chris Tillman has been their ace with a record of 16-6 and an ERA of 3.70. But after Tillman the O’s have just one more pitcher with double digit wins in Miguel Gonzalez with 10. Baltimore should have gone out at the trade deadline and picked up another quality starter, but they didn’t.. And Jim Johnson, while he has 45 saves, has also blown nine save opportunities. Take away those nine blown saves and the O’s are now 88-61 and in second place only four games behind Boston. And they would firmly be in charge of the wild card.

Right now I have serious doubts as to whether they will make the playoffs this year. But even if they don’t, they are still in the conversation for the second year in a row, and that hasn’t happened since the mid-1990s. And for an Orioles fan that’s pretty darn good.

When your team is in the middle of a playoff chase it makes watching that much more fun. Would be more fun if I got to watch every game, but hey, I’m happy with what I’ve got.

sports@sentinel-echo.com

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