11:15 am Aug. 31, 2012
In what has to be the most unlikely pennant chase in years, the Baltimore Orioles visit Yankee Stadium this weekend with a chance to leave on Sunday tied for first place in the American League East.
That would require a sweep of the Yankees, who are currently three games up.
There's reason to be skeptical of the Orioles' chances to catch the Yankees between now and the end of the regular season. The Yankees have significantly more talent, and the Orioles have actually been outscored this year, riding a 24-6 record in one-run games to contention no one predicted.
It essentially means that a number of things will have to happen for them to prevail. In terms of this weekend's series:
1) Starting pitching does not favor the Yankees the way one would expect, given the Yankees have a season E.R.A. of 3.98 from their starters, the Orioles 4.66. The Yankees are throwing Hiroki Kuroda Friday, Freddy Garcia Saturday and David Phelps Sunday. Kuroda has been dominant of late, but Garcia has been hittable and Phelps merely solid.
The Orioles, meanwhile, throw Miguel Gonzalez on Friday, Wei-Yin Chen Saturday and Chris Tillman Sunday. All three have been quite effective for the Orioles, Tillman and Gonzalez of late, and Chen as the team's titular ace all season long. Part of the equation for the Orioles has to be holding the Yankees to a draw through starting pitching.
2) The bullpen has undeniably been the Orioles' best weapon all year. The Orioles have a 3.06 E.R.A. from their relievers, a bit better than the 3.36 from the Yankees. They only had one lefty to throw at teams in Troy Patton, who's been good but is currently hurt, but they just added Randy Wolf, the longtime starter, to serve as another lefty out of the bullpen. But with the depth the Orioles have in relief, and particularly, the way the group has pitched lately—a 2.72 E.R.A. in August—keeping the Yankees off the scoreboard late in games will be key.
3) The Orioles need to get the unlikely hit. They have legitimate talents like Nick Markakis and Adam Jones in the outfield, and even Chris Davis and Mark Reynolds are legitimate, if flawed, power threats. But the Orioles are 17-9 in August, and just this week, they've gotten home runs from Taylor Teagarten (.517 O.P.S.), Lew Ford (.618 O.P.S.) and Nate McLouth (.606 O.P.S.). To beat the Yankees, several Orioles will need to play above themselves.
The Orioles story is almost like the movie Major League, with the victimized fan base, the reviled owner and the years of losing, especially to the Yankees. They may not get the Hollywood ending, but it isn't often that a team like this even gets the chance to find out.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Mets fell to the Phillies, 3-2, to fall one game out of third place heading into September. The battle for fourth place begins Friday night, when the Mets face the Marlins in Miami leading them by two games.
The Jets cut 11 players as they moved to get their final roster in place.
Looks like Prince Amukamara could return for Week 2 from his high ankle sprain.
The Knicks and Nets are both after forward Josh Howard.