Zach Wilt: Welcome to September baseball

Welcome to baseball season in September. Our Orioles had their season-high seven-game winning streak snapped last night and are currently sitting three games above .500. They wrapped up August as one of the hottest teams in baseball after having won three consecutive series, clicking on all cylinders. The playoff race is officially on, but where did this sudden surge come from?

From June 11-Aug. 28, the the Orioles were unable to get over that pesky .500 threshold. They played 70 games of non-winning baseball. The Birds had losing months in May, June, and July, and were outscored by 72 runs over that three-month span. During that time, their starting pitchers allowed 294 earned runs, the most of any rotation in baseball.

Despite the American League wild card race remaining wide open, people were ready to throw in the towel and call it quits on the Orioles’ chances in 2017. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a funny thing happened. The O’s started winning again and finished August with an 17-12 record. Don’t act so surprised.

While May, June, and July were filled with disappointments, the Orioles began the season on a high note. In April, they won 15 of their 23 contests and jumped out to an early lead in the AL East. In fact, the O’s spent 35 days in first place all the way up until May 20. On May 9, they were a season-high 12 games over .500, before their slide down the standings began.

The Birds were able to do all of this despite overall average performances from the offense, starting pitching and rotation. In April, the Orioles scored 101 runs while allowing 100. As a team, they hit .243, ranking 20th in the league during the first month of the season. Their starting rotation posted a combined 4.26 ERA (22nd in the majors) while the bullpen had a slightly lower 4.09 ERA (11th). Regardless of the peripherals, the Birds were first in the standings in their division and had the second most wins in the entire league at the end of April.

They had some bright spots. Adam Jones slashed .309/.369/.479 with four home runs and 11 RBI in April, while Jonathan Schoop showed some early signs of an All-Star season with a team-leading five long balls and 16 driven in. This was paired with some let downs, however. Mark Trumbo and Chris Davis combined for five home runs and Manny Machado was hitting just .224 after the first month of the season.

The Birds were without Chris Tillman in April, but saw outstanding performances from Dylan Bundy (1.65 ERA over five starts) and Wade Miley (2.32 ERA over five starts). Kevin Gausman and Ubaldo JimĂ©nez struggled out of the gate with 7.50 and 7.43 ERAs respectively. The Orioles bullpen saw a similar divide, with Brad Brach, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens and Donnie Hart pitching to ERAs under 2.00 in at least six appearances. Though Darren O’Day and Tyler Wilson had some challenges.

It’s worth looking back at April because it shows us what this team was capable of all season long. Even when they fell a season-low seven games below .500 on July 16, you knew that they were able to play like the 15-8 team of the first month. That, of course, was before two very valuable additions were made at the trade deadline - Tim Beckham and Jeremy Hellickson, who have helped solidify the offense and and support the rotation.

Since coming to Baltimore, Beckham has led the Orioles in average, on base percentage, runs scored and WAR. He’s the leadoff hitter the club so desperately needed. Last night, Hellickson was bounced early by the Blue Jays, but three of his six starts have been of the quality variety so far. Hellickson also logged the second most innings of any Orioles starter in August.

All season long, we have wondered what the Orioles would look like when they were clicking on all cylinders. In August, we got to see the closest answer to that question. Hopefully, fans didn’t forget what this team proved they were capable of back in April and what they have shown to the hometown fans at Camden Yards all year with their 41-27 record. The race to the postseason should be a fun one. Bring on September.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. Follow him on Twitter: @zach_wilt. 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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