The O’s are heading north to face the Yankees for 3 games starting tonight. I think it is a series of opportunity for Baltimore. At a minimum, it will be another series which further clarifies what this Orioles team can be.
As you try and determine what the O’s can be as a team, I think we all recognize that the 10th, 11th, and 12th games of a season will only provide so many answers. With that understood, please allow me to crank up the hyperbole-meter a bit.
Watching the Orange and Black play in New York has been excruciating since ‘98 (the Yankees' run started before that, but the O’s have been horrible since that point). You can typically count on the following: 1) A long game overall, as the Yankees take a lot of pitches. 2) By being patient and extending at-bats, NY typically works into the O’s middle-relief. 3) If the O’s do not grab a lead early, the pressure mounts knowing Rivera will be coming in to close things down.
In basketball there is an axiom that teams that pressure the ball do not like being pressured themselves. In Yankee Stadium, I think you have to do what you can to alter the Yankees' game plan. In the box, the Baltimore hitters have to regularly work counts and that has to start from the beginning of the game. On the mound, the Orioles pitchers have to throw strikes. Nothing is more important than that. If you are throwing strikes, and the Yankees hit their way to a victory, you tip your cap. If O’s pitchers are regularly going deep in counts, and walking hitters, there is little chance to win.
Nothing profound there, basic baseball 101. Also pretty basic common sense to say that the O’s have to get runs on the board early. You cannot try and play from behind in NY with Soriano and Rivera looming out of the pen.
A 162-game season is hard, and will wear you down through daily play and attrition. All teams will go through plenty of adversity, and certainly for the O’s, losing Matusz and Hardy qualifies. When you look back at this 2011 season though, nobody will point out those couple of injuries. The opponents the O’s face obviously will not take any less joy in beating the Birds. In recent years, if the Yankees lose in the postseason, there are those that try to articulate that as an example of parity in baseball. I think that opinion is flawed. Anyone can win or lose a short series. Where the financial advantages of the Yankees are best shown is during the regular season. When they have the depth to overcome obstacles that would cripple other teams. What I like about Showalter is that he is not going to allow the O’s active roster to make excuses for a lack of performance. He is going to hold the O’s responsible for controlling what they can control.
Showalter knows that if the O’s want to build on this 6-3 start, they cannot fall on their collective faces in New York. Tillman, Bergsesen, and Arrieta need to give the O’s a chance. That means not falling behind early, and giving the O’s at-least 5 to 6ip per night. Anything less is not enough, anything more is realistically a bonus at this point. Hopefully the O’s starters can handle the pressure of pitching in Yankee Stadium against a patient lineup, and remember that each of the NY starters (Burnett, Hughes, Nova) have plenty of question marks as well.
If Baltimore is going to do some damage in the Bronx, the bats are going to have to lead the way. The expectations heading into ‘11 were that the O’s would have a very capable offense. Currently 20th overall in runs, and 28th overall in on-base %, it is obvious the O’s offense has yet to get going. They were completely handled during the last two games against the young power lefties (Holland & Harrison) of the Rangers. Nine games should not be enough to change any expectations you previously had though. If, like me, you thought the O’s offense should be anywhere between middle of the pack in the American League to truly formidable, you should still have the same expectations.
For the Birds, these next 3 days are about opportunity. Through success or failure, we will have further information about who these O’s are by Thursday night.
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