Shorebirds don’t clinch yet as Orioles return home

Single-A Delmarva clinching its first playoff appearance in 14 years will have to wait at least until tonight. The Shorebirds were a few outs from clinching last night, but West Virginia hit a grand slam down three runs in the last of the eighth to stun Delmarva in a comeback 5-4 win.

So instead of wrapping up the first-half title in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division, the Shorebirds title will have to wait. Their magic number remains one with six games left. Delmarva was 34-1 when leading after seven innings but is now 34-2 and is 46-17 overall. They remain the club with the best win percentage among all 120 teams in full season minor league ball.

Right-hander Grayson Rodriguez threw four scoreless last night and the Shorebirds got solo homers from Robbie Thorburn, Cadyn Grenier and JC Encarnacion. But a rare late blown lead led to that loss and Delmarva’s seventh playoff appearance in its 24-year team history is close but not yet officially secure.

As for the big Birds: After a series of six competitive games on the road against two possible playoff teams in Texas and Houston, the Orioles come home to host Toronto tonight to start a six-game homestand.

The Orioles lost by six and seven runs to San Francisco in the last two games of the previous homestand that ended June 2. That was not great time at Camden Yards with series losses to the Tigers and Giants. The Orioles posted a 2-4 record on the road trip but it felt like they played much better.

Will some things that have been going better lately continue this week?

Martin-Trots-Home-Orange-sidebar.jpg* Shortstop Richie Martin is 6-for-19 (.316) with two homers over his past six games. He had a solid road trip at the plate, which included the two homers but also some lenghty plate appearances that led to walks. He just looked better and more comfortable at bat.

Is it time for Martin to play every day?

That would probably mean fewer at-bats for Rio Ruiz. With Jonathan Villar out there just about every night and Hanser Alberto swinging a hot bat (he has 13 hits his last 29 at-bats) they both need to play right now. That leaves Martin and Ruiz for one infield spot that’s not first base.

* Is the bullpen finally getting its act together? Miguel Castro has thrown 9 1/3 scoreless over his past five games, touching the high 90s with his fastball. Mychal Givens has allowed one run over 4 2/3 his past five games. Richard Bleier has thrown scoreless outings in five of his past six games. Paul Fry and Shawn Armstrong seem pretty reliable lately as well.

There was finally a ‘pen turnaround for the better.

Manager Brandon Hyde has been on a season-long search to find some reliable pitchers in his bullpen. Has he finally found some? It would be a nice change and the O’s bullpen ERA is 1.56 over the last five games. The O’s rotation, at the same time, has recorded five consecutive quality starts with an ERA of 3.00. In those five games, Baltimore pitchers have allowed 15 runs.

* Can the team maintain a solid attitude while losing so much? Why not? They’ve been doing it so far. There is simply no evidence that this team is getting beaten down by losing. Although that would be somewhat understandable.

They’ve lost four of five, eight of 11 and 16 of their last 21 games. They are 0-12-1 in the last 13 series. It’s been since April 22-24 since they won one. Despite that they played some good competitive baseball on the road and maybe showed signs that we can expect more of the same on this homestand.

Will that hold true?

On another front, here’s more hardware for O’s top draft pick Adley Rutschman.

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