August 19, 2014

Game 123: Markakis Saves Game, Blowout Ensues

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog and I've held off on these articles since I have been watching the past few weeks on pins and needles anxiously scoreboard watching to ensure the O's maintained their division lead after the All-Star Break.  To my delight, they've not only held onto their lead in the AL East, they've stretched it to the largest divisional margin in the entire league.  7.5 games up on the Yankees, the O's can start to see the finish line and has the division crown in their sights. I'm an extremely superstitious person and never get too outlandish/make bold claims about the Orioles to avoid jinxing my beloved squad for future success. As the games pass by and the wins rack up, I can start to relish in the fact that Baltimore's beloved Birds have put themselves in the best position to win a division crown since 2012 and 15 years before that. The 2012 team bears a striking resemblance to this season's squad, with their abundance of power and shutdown pitching in the late innings.

The additions of Brad Brach and Andrew Miller to the bullpen have solidified the unit as a driving force that can rival the incredible bullpen we boasted in 2012. As for the offense, we've had the luxury of leading the league in homeruns once again and with a lineup stocked with power hitters, we haven't suffered crippling blows in terms of offense when our best sluggers get ice cold (Crush and Cruz).  Players such as Caleb Joseph, Delmon Young and Steve Pearce have supplied an ample source of power in the weeks that Nelson and Chris struggled mightily.  Injuries to Machado and Hardy couldn't even slow this team down, as Hardy has continued his torrid second half since return from his hand injury.  Kevin Gausman and Bud Norris' returns to the rotation full time has taken the pressure off of Chen and Tillman to carry the staff, as the O's now boast one of the most formidable rotations in baseball...who would've thought we'd be saying that in late August??? Each player knows their role on this team and are either meeting expectations or severely exceeding them. It's an extremely fun team to watch night in and night out and game's like last night really make you sit back and appreciate the success the team has found through the first 123 games.

After nearly being swept by the Indians on Sunday, the O's fought back with an offensive outburst in the later innings to salvage one game.  Although it was their first series lost in nearly a month (Oakland series), the O's hadn't lost back to back contests in over TWO MONTHS. If you told me in 2011 that this would the be the state of the ballclub in three years time, I would've done cartwheels all the way from Schenectady, New York to Camden Yards. Buck has shown that he's a fitting choice to snag another manager of the year if things happen to hold suit for the final month as he's navigated this team through various injuries, suspensions and slumps.  Remaining cool under pressure, Showalter constantly jumbled the lineup and it usually has spelled success for the O's. Chris Davis has been placed all over the lineup and about 6 different hitters have hit in the 2-hole this season and it always results in wins. Now onto the recap from last night...sorry for the outpouring of admiration for the O's but I believe it is warranted for my first post in nearly two months.  I know my fellow Oriole fans have the same sentiments and I have no problem being the mouthpiece for the Orioles faithful.
Stud Norris: Bud is 4-1 with 3.00 ERA in his six second-half starts
As I stated earlier, it was a hard fought series against Cleveland last weekend that resulted in the Indians stealing 2 out of 3 after strong pitching performances by Kluber and Carrasco.  Kluber, by the way, is an absolute stud and quickly becoming my favorite non-Oriole in the MLB. Anyways, a great comeback led by the longball allowed us to salvage the game on Sunday.  Heading into the Chicago-swing, the O's began the trip against Chris Sale and the White Sox with the Yankees and Blue Jays idle yesterday. The game was dominated in the beginning by great pitching as Sale and Bud "Stud" Norris retired allowed one run combined in the first four innings.  Sale's early blunder came off the bat of JJ Hardy, who crushed his 7th homerun into the left field seats after the lefty hung a fastball over the heart of the plate. Norris was in cruise control for the first six innings, allowing only one hit and striking out four while limiting his pitch count over the course of the game (82 pitches in 7 innings).  The O's would tack on insurance runs in the 5th and 6th thanks to a Pearce RBI double and a Nelson Cruz solo homerun.

Markakis went 3-5 with a homerun in addition to making the game-saving grab
Both hitters, who had been struggling at the end of July, have seemed to find their power strokes once again as they combined to go 4-8 with 3 extra base hits last night.  For Cruz, he tied Giancarlo Stanton for the MLB-lead in home runs with a bomb to left field, giving the O's a three run cushion. As Norris was cruising, things appeared to be locked up but the righty ran into some trouble in the seventh as a two-out two run single to Avisail Garcia cut the deficit to one with Connar Gillaspie coming to the plate. Gillaspie ripped a fastball to the right field wall and just as it looked as though the White Sox would complete the comeback, a charging Nick Markakis leapt at the wall and make a beautiful catch while smashing into the fence to end the inning and preserve the lead.  I don't know about any of you but I let out one single yell of astonishment when the catch was made and sat speechless for a few seconds in awe of what I had just witnessed.  It was one of the finest plays I've seen this year but after years of watching Markakis patrol right field, it's just something I've become accustom to.

Using the catch as a springboard for the offense, the O's bats erupted in the top of the 8th, stringing to together extra base hits that included a Jonathon Schoop three-run double off the wall and a Nick Markakis (what can't this man do?) two run shot down the left field line to put the game out of reach at 8-2.  After two scoreless frames from Brach, the O's had wrapped up their 71st win of the season and gained a half game on their divisional foes.  Bud (Stud) got his 11th win of the season and continues to pitch well in the second half of the season, seemingly getting better with each passing start.  Hopefully Tilly can build off that success tonight as he looks to gain his tenth win of the season, giving the Orioles their third pitcher with double-digit victories (Chen, Norris). The O's had 7 extra base hits last night and once again showed what the this offense is capable of when they are clicking on all cylinders.  JJ Hardy is now hitting .396 in the month of August with 3 HRs and 11 RBI's. After a slow start to the season in terms of power numbers, JJ has blasted 7 homers in his last 150 at-bats.

It was simply a classic Orioles win that showed off all the aspects of what has made this team great over this past season.  Power hitting, strong pitching and timely plays on defense are the hallmarks of this ballclub and it would appear that we're going to see a lot more of it in 2014. Quietly, the O's have compiled the 3rd best record in baseball and will continue to fly under the radar, which is totally fine by me and the rest of the O's fans out there.  We're ecstatic from the Birds' play and we don't need media coverage to keep us satisfied.

Tonight's starters are Jose Quintana and Chris Tillman. Be on the look out for more recaps in the future.
Go O's.

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