Miguel Gonzalez continued a trend of recent Baltimore Orioles starting pitching dominance last night going seven innings and striking out nine New York Yankees hitters along the way. Gonzalez surrendered just four hits and with the win last night, moved himself to 6-3 on the season and the Baltimore Orioles to within two games of the AL East leading Yankees.
Gonzalez befuddled Yankee hitters throughout the night and was able to do thanks to an uncanny ability to keep hitters off balance. He had all of his pitches working throughout the outing and Orioles catcher Matt Wieters deserves a huge assist in Gonzalez's latest gem. Wieters was working both sides of the plate with Gonzalez and was calling the right pitch at the right time nearly every single time. Wieters ability to call a game often goes unnoticed and unfairly so. He is the best catcher in baseball behind the plate and one of the game's most premiere catchers at it.
Offensively for the O's it was Mark Reynolds turn to play the hero as he hit two home runs last night driving in three of the six Orioles runs. Not to be out done by his performance at the plate, his performance in the field continues to be lights out at first base. Had Reynolds been the first basemen all year, he would have been boasting a legitimate threat to win the American League Gold Glove Award at first base. He has been that good. Nick Markakis had another three hit night in the Orioles 6-1 win over the Yankees.
In recent weeks, people have been searching for the reason that the Baltimore Orioles just won't go away. Searching for reasons that this team is any good and for stats that reveal how the Orioles are hanging in this race. You won't find the answers searching in stats. You certainly won't find them using the on field eye test. The answer to why the Baltimore Orioles are hanging around in both the division and Wild-Card race is simple: Balance. Many of the teams that the Orioles are competing against for playoff spots rely almost completely upon the performance of 3-5 and sometimes more All-World type players.
For example, the Yankees rely on Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, etc, etc, etc. The Detroit Tigers are a two man show, relying on Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The Chicago White Sox need Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, A.J. Pierzynski to produce to win games. But the Orioles are proving that you can be a contender without the constant production of a few players. You cannot deny what Adam Jones meant to the Baltimore Orioles in the first half of the season. But in the second half, Jones has cooled off and the Birds have kept winning. Outside of Wieters and Jones, the Orioles boast no big names like the teams they are battling for the playoff spots and some would argue Wieters and Jones aren't even there yet.
What do we mean when we say balance. Balance means that on any given night, each player in the Orioles line-up can be the star and win a game on his own. This is true both at the plate and on the mound. For example in the month of August the Birds went 18-9. In those 18 wins, there has been a different "player of the game in nearly all of them". The names include the usuals, Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis. But they also include guys like Taylor Teagarden, Nate McLouth, Chris Tillman, Steve Johnson, Mark Reynolds, and Lew Ford. The latter six hardly resemble the looks of a hero and wouldn't even be able to find their way into the line-ups or rotations of the other contenders.
But that balance coupled with a lights out bullpen have the Orioles two games out of first place as they look to trim the gap today in New York when Wei-Yin Chen takes the mound against David Phelps. Chen made his first Major League start against the Bronx Bombers in April and is 1-0 with a no decision against the New Yorkers this year. Phelps, a converted reliever, has never started against the Orioles. You can only wonder who it's going to be today for the Baltimore Orioles in their hunt for that elusive playoff berth.
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