Not functioning on all cylinders, but Orioles are winning and in first place

Baseball can be a hard game to explain sometimes.

Consider the 2012 Baltimore Orioles. They lead the American League with 22 errors. They are batting just .213 as a team with runners in scoring position. Their homer leader from last season hasn’t hit even one yet. Their starting shortstop is batting .178. They had to use their second and third closers in their most recent series. One of their hottest hitters, Nolan Reimold, has missed seven games. They are tied for ninth in the league in runs scored. They got swept by the Yankees.

But there is good news. Despite all that, the Orioles have won four games in a row, despite scoring just 13 runs total in that time, and they are tied for first place in the AL East with a 12-7 record.

The Orioles have been getting sensational pitching lately and they continue to come up with key plays late in games to win. Last night, Adam Jones and Chris Davis homered in the eighth inning to snap a 2-2 tie and give the Orioles a three-game sweep of a Toronto team that is supposed to be much better than them this year.

Over the last four games, Orioles pitching has allowed just three earned runs for a team ERA of 0.73 in that stretch. The starting pitchers have given up just two earned runs the last four contests for an ERA of 0.71. The bullpen ERA is now down to 1.96 on the year and the ‘pen has allowed just one earned run in the last six games over 18 1/3 innings.

The Orioles, who ranked 30th and last in team ERA in the majors last year at 4.89, are now winning with pitching. For a while, Jake Arrieta, Wei-Yin Chen and Jason Hammel were the only three starters pitching pretty well. Now, in the last series, Brian Matusz and Tommy Hunter have joined them.

The starters have now put together four straight quality starts for the first time in 2012 and they have nine on the year. The Orioles are 9-0 in those games.

In Chicago, Jones hit a homer with two outs in the ninth inning to tie a game the Orioles would win in 10 innings. Last night, Jones homered in the eighth to break a 2-2 tie. I’m sticking to my preseason stance that he is the best player on this team to bat fourth. Of his six homers, four have come in the sixth inning or later and five of the six have either tied the game or given the Orioles the lead.

Despite the shaky defense, the lack of clutch hits some nights and one major bullpen meltdown, the Orioles are winning and making some big plays late in games. They are pulling out the close games and seem to be developing team chemistry and building a winning feeling.

We’ll see how far it will take them. A road trip to New York and Boston starts Monday.

Reminder about Saturday: The Orioles Legends Celebration Series kicks off Saturday, with the unveiling of a sculpture of Frank Robinson at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in the area beyond left-center field. Robinson’s larger-than-life bronze sculpture is the first of six the Orioles will reveal this season, each depicting one of the greatest Orioles of all time.

There will be a limited amount of space available for fans to view the unveiling itself, so those interested in watching should arrive at Eutaw Street Gates A or H at Camden Yards by the time gates open at 5:00 p.m. The ceremony will begin at approximately 5:15, with remarks from special guests and then from Robinson following the sculpture unveiling. Robinson will also participate in an on-field ceremony prior to the Orioles’ 7:05 p.m. game against the Oakland A’s and will throw out the ceremonial first-pitch. Fans are strongly encouraged to get their tickets in advance as a significant walk-up crowd is expected.

All fans in attendance at Saturday’s game will receive an exact replica of Robinson’s sculpture.

Orioles fans are encouraged to use the hashtag #congratsfrank to send congratulatory messages to Robinson over the next two days. Select messages will appear on the Oriole Park video board during Saturday’s game.

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