By Ryan Decker
The Baltimore Orioles haven’t held at least a share of the lead in the AL East since August 16.
Since the beginning of August, the Orioles have seen their lead in the division turn to dust, and their once-prominent position in the Wild Card race be washed away to nearly nothing, as well.
Chris Tillman, who seemingly just over a month ago was at the forefront of the AL Cy Young conversation, hasn’t pitched since August 20.
His Aug. 17 start was pushed back due to shoulder discomfort, and when he pitched three days later, Tillman had his worst outing of the year. Six runs, on six hits, five walks and zero strikeouts in just two innings on the mound against Houston.
The absence of Tillman goes hand in hand with the success, or lack thereof, that Baltimore has had in three weeks since.
Tillman, who is scheduled to throw one final bullpen session on Friday, is eyeing Sunday to return to action when the O’s play against the playoff-minded Detroit Tigers.
It’s an important start for many reasons, but two stick out.
- One is the fact that every start from here on out is important to the O’s. The bottom line is that if Baltimore wants to make the playoffs, they have to start winning games more consistently than they have been as of late. Losing games to the Tampa Bay Rays in September is a red flag, and a no go. Following Sunday’s game against Detroit, 17 of the final 20 games the Orioles will play are against divisional opponents, with 13 of those games being against teams that are in the playoff picture (and yes that actually includes the Yankees.) Every time out, Baltimore’s starters have to put the team in position for the offense to win the game, and to be able to hand the game over to one of the best bullpens in baseball with the lead.
- The other reason is because as play begins on Friday, Baltimore is directly on the fringe of making the playoffs. The Orioles hold a one-game lead for the second Wild Card spot heading into the weekend. With all of those games I mentioned earlier against teams in the playoff picture, it is possible for the Orioles to get hot suddenly, piece everything together, and climb back up to the top of the division. However, it is equally as likely for the Orioles to fall completely out of contention, ending what has been a very positive season on a very sour note.
Tillman’s start will dictate which way the Orioles go. It will be the determining factor.
Baltimore is scheduled to run into the Tigers three best starting pitchers in Detroit this upcoming series – Michael Fulmer (10-6, 2.77), Jordan Zimmermann (9-5, 4.44) and Justin Verlander (14-7, 3.28).
If Baltimore loses the first two games of the series, the Orioles would be on the outside looking in of the second Wild Card spot, one game behind the Tigers and potentially tied with, or a half-game behind, the Astros.
Tillman’s start, if ended in a loss, would put Baltimore two games out of the final playoff spot.
That should mark the end. Time to close shop for the year.
No one likes to use the “t-word” when talking sports, but sometimes it’s smart to “t-word.”
Or in other words, just stop trying.
It does the franchise no good to miss the playoffs by a game and then go the entire offseason saying, “Look how close we were.”
Use the final few weeks to get some other guys some playing time, go after the home run record, and work on re-signing key pieces for next year, such as Mark Trumbo, and trying to get a jump start on looking at other free agents. Use the final few weeks to improve your position in the draft.
On the other hand, if the O’s show some life, win the series against Detroit and have a good showing on the road in Boston the following three days, then the narrative changes.
But as it stands now, after Baltimore has gone a measly 6-6 since taking three out of four from the Nationals, playoff hopes don’t look good.
Even if they make it, I don’t see them getting very far.
Tillman’s start Sunday will decide everything, though.