By Ryan Decker
Nearly all pundits, analysts and fans, including myself, called the Baltimore Orioles (55-56) crazy for buying and not selling over the last two weeks at Major League Baseball’s trade deadline.
The Orioles were as many as six and seven games below .500 in the days leading up to July 31 and were looking like a ball club sputtering just before a long, hard downward spiral.
Since then, they’ve proved us all wrong.
Baltimore is 7-2 over its last nine games, the two players it traded for – starter Jeremy Hellickson and shortstop Tim Beckham – have paid huge dividends since arriving, and now the O’s are in a position they have not been in for some time.
“Our pitching staff is doing well, we’re playing as a team,” Manny Machado told reporters after Sunday’s 12-3 rout of the Tigers. “We’re doing things correct. We’re finally starting to sink in, so hopefully we can take this road trip and get some more Ws.”
Being in that position means it’s now or never for Baltimore to keep itself in playoff contention, and that won’t be easy.
The upcoming road trip Machado referenced is the 10-game stay on the West Coast beginning Monday. The Orioles will travel to take on the Angels, Athletics and Mariners.
Away from home is where the O’s will be spending a majority of their time for the remainder of the season, with 28 of their final 51 games scheduled to be played away from Camden Yards. Not only that, but more than half of their road series are against teams with winning records.
“We’ve got a tough road ahead,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Anaheim is the only team playing better than Kansas City when we played them. Seattle is making moves and playing well. Oakland is that place, you never know what you’re going to get.”
This all matters because of how poor Baltimore has played on the road this season.
Showalter’s club is just 20-33 in games played outside of the Charm City.
It’s a trend that will have to be reversed in order for the Orioles to stay in contention in the hunt for the final AL Wild Card spot.
Baltimore, which currently sits two games back of Royals and Rays, needs to make up that ground and then some in August. September has no give, including a 10-game road trip against Cleveland, Toronto and the Yankees.
In August, on the other hand, is a schedule that is more forgiving.
Baltimore’s opposition for the remainder of the month is just a combined two games over .500, most of which is made up by Boston (63-49).
For the Orioles to be in good shape heading into the final month of the season, they need to survive the West Coast swing, and then take at least two out of three games from both the Angels and Athletics when they follow the O’s back to Baltimore.
Showalter, though, doesn’t believe the road trip is the be-all end-all.
“So, is the season over if we don’t do well on the West Coast,” Showalter asked the media. “No. Our guys know what’s at stake the rest of the season and that road trip includes that.”
Either way you look at it, Baltimore will need some help if it wants to make the postseason.
The Orioles are currently tied with the Angels in the Wild Card standings, but six games against one another in the next 13 days should put some separation between the two.
Above the O’s are Tampa Bay and Kansas City.
The Rays, like the Orioles, have a tough slate of games the rest of the way, though unlike Baltimore, have more home games than road contests and have to go no farther west than Kansas City.
The Royals, however, have an easy September schedule, which includes just eight games against teams with winning records. To get there, though, KC will go through a stretch of games that pits the 2015 champs against Cleveland for two series and Colorado for another. They then end the regular season against Arizona.
It won’t be easy for the Orioles to make the playoffs for the fourth time in the last six seasons. But it’s looking much more possible now than it did two weeks ago.
Extended road trips this month and next will go a long way in proving whether or not Baltimore’s recent hot streak is just that, or if it was part of a big turnaround that turned into a trip to the postseason.