Zach Wilt: O's guaranteed winning record during grueling stretch against AL East foes

Wednesday night's dramatic 10-8 victory against Toronto may have taken a few years off the lives of Orioles fans, or at least caused some gray hairs, but it was a crucial comeback victory that guaranteed a winning record in one of the most grueling stretches of the O's schedule. This evening, the Birds conclude an extremely difficult 15-game span against American League East opponents.

It began with a three-game series in New York against the Yankees way back on April 7, the Bronx Bombers' home opener, then the O's returned to Baltimore for a weekend series against the Jays and two games against the Rays (a game scheduled for Tuesday, April 15 was postponed). Tonight, their six-game, two-city road trip wraps up at Rogers Centre after the Birds previously played four in Boston. Here's how they did in those series:

* at Yankees: 2-1
* vs. Blue Jays: 1-2
* vs. Rays: 2-0
* at Red Sox: 2-2
* at Blue Jays: 1-1 (with one to play)

Not too shabby. The Orioles play one team from the AL East in May, the Rays at the Trop from May 6-8. After that, they won't see another division rival until June 9. You've got to love the unbalanced schedule.

A winning record over this tough early-season stretch is something that shouldn't go unnoticed. There was nothing easy about this part of the schedule and as much as we all agree on the old April baseball cliché that reminds us it's early, a tailspin could have put the O's in a serious hole heading into May.

Not only will the Birds walk away from this stretch victorious, but they managed to do so without some of their key contributors. Shortstop J.J. Hardy, plagued by back spasms and a hamstring injury, has played in just eight of the Orioles 15 games on what "the grind." That's what I'm going to call it from now on, OK? Catcher Matt Wieters has played in 11 of those 15 games and missed back-to-back starts (April 21 at Boston, April 22 at Toronto) with a forearm injury. Wieters returned to Buck Showalter's lineup Wednesday night and went 3-for-5, belting his fourth homer of the season.

Quite possibly the Orioles' biggest loss, Manny Machado, has been out since the start of the 2014 season. Machado, a 6.4 WAR player last season, slashed .283/.314/.432 a season ago. He begins a rehab assignment in Single-A Frederick on Friday. May is already looking up. In his place, the Orioles have used rookie Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty at third base during the grind.

Of the 14 games played, Orioles starters have only recorded quality starts just five times. The O's rotation ranks 29th in that category so far this season. Baltimore has won four of those five games and managed to pick up victories in four non-quality starts as well, a testament to the strength of their lineup and bullpen.

Coming up, the Orioles host the 10-10 Royals at Camden Yards for a three-game weekend series. Baltimore won three of their seven games against K.C. in 2013. Then they host the 9-13 Pittsburgh Pirates for a two-game series; the O's went 11-9 in interleague matchups last year. The grind has put this team to the test early on in season and they have responded well. A victory tonight would look even better.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zamwi. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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