Most unappreciated Oriole, and other notes

CHICAGO - The Orioles have won nine of their last 10 series openers since July 21. A victory tonight or Wednesday would give them nine series wins out of the last 10.

They’re 19 games above .500, tying their season high, and 7 1/2 ahead of the Yankees in the American League East.

Having fun yet?

Shortstop J.J. Hardy is often overlooked with his home run production down this season, but he’s hitting .436 (17-for-39) with three home runs, nine RBIs and nine runs scored over his last 10 games. He’s got six multi-hit games during that stretch.

Nick Markakis is batting .415 (17-for-41) during his 10-game hitting streak, and .400 (24-for-60) this month after hitting .231 in July.

He can still flash the leather, too. And slam into the padding.

Nelson Cruz has hit safely in nine of his last 10 games, going 11-for-38 (.290). He now leads the American League with 32 home runs.

Brad-Brach.jpgMost unappreciated Oriole of the season? I may have to nominate reliever Brad Brach, who retired all six batters he faced last night to close out an 8-2 win over the White Sox.

Brach didn’t break camp with the Orioles this spring. Evan Meek and Josh Stinson were on the 12-man pitching staff while Brach headed to Triple-A Norfolk.

Last night’s game ended with Brach’s ERA down to 2.61 in 29 games and 48 1/3 innings. He’s allowed one run and two hits in his last 10 outings over 13 1/3 innings.

Score it as another under-the-radar depth move by executive vice president Dan Duquette, who traded minor league pitcher Devin Jones to the Padres for Brach.

It’s become an embarrassingly one-sided deal.

Would the Orioles dare to option Brach to make room for Miguel Gonzalez, who may be recalled this weekend? Manager Buck Showalter likes having left-hander T.J. McFarland as a long man to back up the right-handed starters.

Here’s my guess: The Orioles option infielder Cord Phelps over the weekend, recall Gonzalez and go with an extra pitcher at Wrigley Field. They lose the designated hitter, which puts another bat on the bench.

They may put Ubaldo Jimenez in limbo.

Kevin Gausman is starting Friday night on normal rest and Bud Norris is starting Saturday on normal rest. Chris Tillman, who takes the mound tonight, could start Sunday on ... you guessed it ... normal rest.

Tillman is 6-0 with a 4.68 ERA in 13 road starts this season, thanks to 6.24 runs of support per nine innings.

In three lifetime starts against the White Sox, Tillman is 2-1 with a 4.30 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. He earned the win in his most recent outing on Aug. 28, 2012 by tossing seven scoreless innings at Camden Yards. He allowed only one hit.

In his lone career start at U.S. Cellular Field on April 30, 2011, Tillman earned the win after allowing one earned run over five innings in the Orioles’ 6-2 victory.

Alexei Ramirez is 4-for-6 with a home run against Tillman.

The White Sox are starting another left-hander, Jose Quintana, who will leave the game at his own risk. Man, their bullpen flat-out stinks. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.

Adam Jones is 5-for-9 with a double and two home runs against Quintana, and Delmon Young is 3-for-7.

Steve Pearce, who has five hits in his last two games, is 2-for-3 with a home run against Quintana.

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