Baltimore Orioles: Wild Card Contenders?

Heading into the July 31st trade deadline, those among the national media pegged the Baltimore Orioles as sellers, and BIG sellers at that. With a bullpen rich in talent with Britton, Brach, O’Day, and Givens, along with a controllable super-star in Manny Machado, they seemed to be the perfect fit to rebuild and retool a desolate farm system in a big way while in the midst of a mediocre campaign.

When the Orioles ended up doing the opposite at the deadline it left almost everyone scratching their heads. After going out and adding SP Jeremy Hellickson from the Phillies and then SS Tim Beckham from the division rival Rays, no one was really sure what this organization’s long-term plan looked like. Hellickson was an adequate addition to a historically bad rotation, while Beckham provided IF depth and a possible replacement for injured J.J. Hardy following this season, but they couldn’t truly be called game changing moves in the sense that they failed to shake up the landscape of the AL Wild Card or AL East picture.

However, following a 5-2 home stand that saw the team blow the doors off a red hot Kansas City team, score runs in a dynamic and atypical for them (i.e. not via the home run), and saw the starting pitching provide quality and impressive starts, some have taken a second look at this team and are on the cusp of believing in them again. Both deadline additions immediately proved their worth as Beckham went on to win AL Player of the Week honors with a line of .583/.600/1.167 and 3 HRs to his name and Hellickson looked sharp tossing 7 shutout innings in his debut with the team.

While they still sit a game under .500 and 2.5 GB of the 2nd AL Wild Card, they’ve become an intriguing team to watch once again now that Zach Britton has looked like his old self in his last few appearances, Jonathan Schoop has emerged as an elite two-way player, the offense has appeared multi-faceted, and the starting pitching has proved competent. For the Orioles at this stage in the season, it’s all about taking it one game at a time. Even though they seem unlikely to climb all the way back from a 7.5 game deficit in their division, the idea of this group gaining 2.5 and tying KC for the 2nd Wild Card is very much realistic.

As it stands, the teams schedule matches up very favorably for them this month as well. Starting tonight they’ll begin a 10-game West Coast swing that sees them playing both the Angels and Mariners, who are also among the group of fringe Wild Card contenders, along with the 50-62 Oakland Athletics. Following the road trip they’ll return home to see these three teams again, as well as play 16 of their ensuing 19 games at Camden Yards, the only team they visit over that stretch being the first place Red Sox.

If the Orioles continue their recent success over the course of this 10-game road trip, it will be difficult to dismiss them any longer. A 6-4 trip would go a long way for this team as it not only gets this group to .500, but keeps them in the conversation for the wild card with a long stretch of home games on the horizon. Keep an eye on these Birds because it won’t necessarily take the stars aligning for them to be considered contenders by September.

Follow Liam Fennessy on Twitter: @Liam_Fennessy13

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