Big League Stew

Last-place Orioles excel as late-season spoilsports

Rob Iracane
Big League Stew

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It's not going to be enough to push their avian neighbor, the football Ravens, from the top of the Baltimore sports fan's consciousness, but the Orioles are having another positive September run.

Indeed, this month marks the second straight year the team is putting up a winning record in September under manager Buck Showalter.

But unlike last year, the Orioles are affecting the playoff races in the American League.

In the past 11 games, the Orioles are 8-3, having won series against the streaking Tampa Bay Rays, the one-time contender Los Angeles Angels and a shame-spiraling Boston Red Sox team. On Thursday night, it continued as the O's took down the Detroit Tigers, a team that has not won a game since it clinched the AL Central and is fighting a team with the same record, the Texas Rangers, for home-field advantage in the first round of the ALDS.

While the Tigers have at least clinched October baseball, the Rays are weathering their struggles to stay in the race, and the Angels hang on for dear life, the Red Sox are the team most affected by Showalter's team's newly found fire. In a four-game series at Fenway Park this week, the Orioles won three close games, including a Tuesday night blown save by Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon and a Wednesday night collapse by starter Josh Beckett.

For a Red Sox team forecast by 45 out of 45 ESPN experts to win the division, losing late-season games on heroics by opponents like Robert Andino, who hit the game-winning home run on Tuesday, is awful.

But let us not forget: These contenders aren't falling to a bunch of nobodys. The Orioles do have a talented group! Four players have hit 20 or more home runs and the team has the fourth most tater tots in the league. Their defense has turned the third most double plays in the league. And heck, even Vladimir Guerrero, who had virtually no power during the first half of the season, is finishing the season strong, slugging .576 in the past 24 games and closing in on the all-time Dominican hits record!

Starting pitcher Tommy Hunter knows the score: {YSP:MORE}

"We are pretty good, that's the bottom line. This is a baseball team. These guys come to play every day."

Showalter himself knows the pressures of trying to maintain a winning record in September, having led two different franchises to the postseason in the past and coming up just shy with another. Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal spoke with the Orioles skipper:

"One of the toughest things to do is finish off a good season. Those games don't go by fast, the last two weeks. It's like an eternity, trying to get the math right where you can go on."

Yikes, Buck! I was told there would be no math. This weekend, the Orioles will continue their tilt in Detroit with the Tigers before returning home to, you guessed it, host the Red Sox in a season-closing three-game stint. If the Sox haven't built up a four-game wild-card lead after their weekend series in the Bronx against the division-winning New York Yankees, they could be in big trouble.

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