Frederick Keys have used an old O's formula to close in on a championship

The 2011 Frederick Keys are a team the Orioles of yesteryear would like.

They win thanks to pitching and defense and the occasional clutch homer.

Single-A Frederick used that formula to post the best record in the Carolina League this year at 80-59 and used it again to beat Potomac in a five-game first-round playoff series, winning Game 5 last night. The Keys have reached the Mills Cup championship series, which opens tonight in Frederick when they host the Kinston Indians.

Frederick led the league with a 3.22 team ERA this year and the good pitching continues in the playoffs. While Rick Zagone gave up five runs in his start against Potomac, in the other four games of that series the starting pitchers - Jake Pettit, Scott Copeland and Ryohei Tanaka - pitched to a 1.08 ERA, allowing just 11 hits in 25 innings.

In the series, Potomac hit just .188 against Frederick pitching and Keys hurlers had a 37-to-13 strikeout-to-walks ratio.

The Keys play solid defense and it was much more than solid last night. Especially up the middle, where the dynamic 19-year-old duo of shortstop Manny Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop combined for a highlight-reel double play started by Machado in the sixth inning. Manny went into the hole at short twice last night to begin great defensive plays.

Catcher Brian Ward handles and leads that talented Frederick pitching staff and he has thrown out an amazing 52.6 percent of potential base stealers.

The solid pitching and defense is enough to overcome an offense that finished seventh in the eight-team league in batting average and sixth in runs. Frederick plated just 14 runs in its series with Potomac.

The Keys hit just four homers in the series, but they came up with two key ones to win Game 1 and two more huge homers last night by Schoop and Aaron Baker in the Game 5 win.

Frederick continues to win despite missing several key players that helped them throughout the season but are out now due to injuries. First baseman Tyler Townsend had a .941 OPS but played in just 58 games due to a recurring hamstring issue.

Outfielder Trent Mummey was injured in early June. In the season's final week, both Kipp Schutz and Steven Bumbry got hurt.

The Keys' best starter, Bobby Bundy, who went 11-5 with an ERA of 2.75 in 20 Frederick starts, finished the year with Double-A Bowie.

Despite all this, the Keys are still playing and are now three wins from their fourth Carolina League championship in team history and first since 2007.

For sure, some big-time credit should go to manager Orlando Gomez, field coach Mike Devereaux and pitching coach Blaine Beatty. The Keys are clearly a close-knit team with great chemistry and they have been a fun team to cover.

Believe it or not, Frederick did not have one player selected to the league's postseason All-Star team and Gomez was not named Manager of the Year.

So the Keys have not been racking up awards, just stockpiling wins. Tonight they look to add the first of three more they need for another championship.

If you missed this story I published yesterday, the Keys are on the verge of signing a new long-term lease to stay in Frederick.

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