With the AL East title locked up, the only goal left for the Baltimore Orioles in the remaining two weeks is home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
However, even a perfect record in their final 11 games might not be enough to accomplish that.One day after clinching the division seems like an opportune time to rest some regulars, and the Baltimore Orioles will have that luxury Wednesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.Baltimore (91-60) clinched its first division title in 17 years and only its second since 1983 on Tuesday with an 8-2 victory over Toronto. Steve Pearce hit a three-run homer and Alejandro De Aza added a three-run triple to lift the Orioles to their ninth win in 10 games and second playoff appearance in three years following a run of 14 consecutive losing seasons."We've got some more work to do, and these guys know it, but congratulations to them on the division crown. They did a great job," said Dan Duquette, the team's executive vice president of baseball operations.Baltimore's 49-21 mark since June 30 is a half-game better than the Los Angeles Angels for the best in baseball. The Orioles are three games behind the Angels for baseball's best record."It's everything I hoped for, man. It's an awesome experience," said Nick Markakis, the longest-tenured Oriole. "We worked hard all season long to get where we are now. We got one step out of the way. Now we have a couple more steps to go."Pearce has turned into a big-time contributor with a career-high 18 homers in 320 at-bats and takes on an even bigger role now with Chris Davis' suspension.De Aza and Jimmy Paredes are much later arrivals, but both have come up with key hits lately.De Aza is 16 for 49 (.327) with nine RBIs, two homers and three triples in 12 games since joining Baltimore, while Paredes homered Tuesday and is batting .419 with seven RBIs in 11 games with his new team."It says a lot about the way these guys can come in and perform," Duquette said. "They're good baseball players."Exceptional starting pitching has been the biggest key for the Orioles, whose starters have posted a 1.79 ERA over the last 15 games. Bud Norris (13-8, 3.74 ERA) has held opponents scoreless twice in three starts during that span and will face the Blue Jays for the fifth time this season Wednesday.The right-hander tossed three-hit ball over seven innings Friday in a 5-0 win over the Yankees. He walked two and struck out a season-high 10 to improve to 7-2 with a 2.62 ERA in 12 home starts this year.Norris is 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA this season against Toronto, allowing one run over 13 2/3 innings in two starts at Camden Yards.Jose Reyes is 9 for 25 lifetime against Norris, while Colby Rasmus is only 6 for 29 but with three homers and two doubles.Toronto (77-73) has lost four of five, a stretch that likely ends any chance at a wild card.J.A. Happ (9-10, 4.28) looks to avoid a third straight losing start. The left-hander has lost five of his last six decisions since the beginning of August, posting a 3.93 ERA in that eight-start span. He was excellent against Tampa Bay on Friday, allowing one run and two hits over seven innings while walking one and striking out seven in a 1-0 loss.Happ usually pitches well against the Orioles, going 1-2 with a 2.32 ERA in five career starts. He's split a pair of outings this season, yielding three runs in 14 innings with 18 strikeouts and one walk.
The Orioles won their first division title since 1997 Tuesday night, and clinched their 2nd playoff berth in the last 3 seasons. At the center of their resurgence - quite literally - has been Adam Jones, their all-star, gold-glove CF.
Jones has very quietly been one of the most consistent players in baseball since his first all-star appearance in 2009. In fact, Jones has a chance to become the only player in baseball to hit .280 with 25 HR in each of the last 4 seasons.