The regular season is down to 25 games. Six against the Blue Jays, who lead them by 4 1/2 in the wild card race.
What the Orioles do over these last four weeks will be an entertaining watch.
It’s about more than results on the field, though, who isn’t dying to find out what happens? Baseball really matters in Baltimore while the Ravens get set for their opener on Sunday. Hasn’t been like this in a while.
Also fascinating is how the games and rosters are handled in the heat of a pennant race. How the organization reacts to it while venturing into an area that’s been restricted since the teardown started.
Brandon Hyde managed with his hands tied in Monday’s doubleheader, unable to use veteran Jordan Lyles and seeking volunteers for Game 2. Mike Baumann’s first major league start was scheduled for the nightcap, but he got bumped up to Game 1. Keegan Akin sprinted to the bullpen to warm after Lyles was scratched, with the short notice preventing Bruce Zimmermann from taking the assignment.
Three left-handers pitched in Game 2 against a team that feasts on them. Zimmermann was recalled after Game 1, an in-case-of-emergency arrival from Triple-A. Nick Vespi became the first reliever to pitch on three consecutive days and surrendered Bo Bichette’s three-run homer in the third inning.
Hyde didn’t have a full bullpen. He didn’t want to use high-leverage, late-inning relievers that early. He didn’t picture the biggest games of the season beginning with his club at a disadvantage based on circumstances beyond his control.
I’ve seen reports that some Jays were irritated by the late notice on Akin starting, as if the Orioles mapped out the strategy. They weren’t trying to deceive anyone. It was late for Hyde, too. Around the time of the lineup exchange at home plate.
Lyles threw in the bullpen. He wasn’t a decoy. He really tried to start.
Maybe an overblown media interpretation. I didn’t venture over to the visiting side. Otherwise, it’s ridiculous to think the Orioles tried to fool anybody by switching starters.
Also, it didn’t work out for them, so it would have been a rotten plan.
Hyde was much more aggressive Tuesday night after the sweep. Players referred to it as “must win,” even with more than a couple dozen games left.
Dillon Tate in the fourth inning, Cionel Pérez the fifth. Félix Bautista called upon for his second six-out performance and first six-out save. A true postseason vibe.
Maybe not do or die, but do or dive. The Orioles would have been 5 ½ games out of the last wild card if they lost.
"I thought we needed to win the game," Hyde said. "I was going to do anything I can to try to win the game."
The mindset in September isn’t the same as earlier in the season.
“Especially when you’re in the position we’re in and playing the teams that are ahead of you in the race,” Hyde said. “They’re important games, and so a game in May is definitely different than now. You have an expanded roster, also, so things are a little bit different.”
The insertion of Tyler Wells into the rotation last night felt like a nod toward their contender status. Perhaps the most reliable starter prior to his oblique injury, though he wobbled a bit toward the end.
More games pitched in the minors on a rehab assignment, with a stop this week in Bowie, won’t help the Orioles.
They needed him here and facing a team that he held to one run in six innings in June at Rogers Centre, his 12th consecutive start allowing three earned runs or fewer.
Grayson Rodriguez could make his major league debut later this month if he’s built up for it. Sounds like a “get his feet wet” opportunity, except the Orioles likely would do it for his arm, seeking his assistance in their push for the playoffs.
New relievers Jake Reed and Yennier Cano joined the bullpen Tuesday because the Orioles needed more right-handers against the Jays. The matchups mattered more.
Gunnar Henderson is playing every day because the Orioles think an offense that tends to slip into rest mode can use his bat.
Hyde sent up Adley Rutschman to pinch-hit for Austin Hays Friday night with the score tied in the eighth inning, a move that opened some eyes in the press box. Good thing, too, since we’re supposed to be watching.
Hays normally would hit, but he’s struggling and Rutschman seemed like a good matchup with the bases loaded. The crowd went nuts.
He took six pitches and walked.
Jorge Mateo singled on the next pitch to score two more runs and the Orioles won 5-2.
You manage differently in September. In a race.
The Jays will be exposed to it six more times against the Orioles, and they’ve struggled to co-exist on the same field. Dugouts and bullpens keep spilling onto it.
They’re developing a rivalry that the Orioles should take as a compliment.
It beats hearing Duke fans chant, “Not Our Rivals” at the Maryland basketball team. That one stung.
“I think we play a ton of close games against these guys,” Hyde said. “Kind of weird finishes and a lot of offense. As we have gotten better, I think it becomes a better rivalry. As we get more talented and our games with them become more competitive, it becomes a better rivalry.
“I hope so, because I think it’s two young, exciting teams who have bright futures ahead of them.”