The Orioles’ fast track atop of the AL East leaderboard

PHEONIX – Before a series opener between Baltimore and Arizona in the desert Sept. 1, Diamondbacks’ manager Torey Lovullo made an analogy between his competitive club in wild-card contention and heights reached by the Orioles.

Noting his Diamondbacks are a trajectory course that the Orioles traversed one baseball season ago, Lovullo observed, “it’s easy for us to compare us to them. However, for us, I focus on the now.”

At the same time, it’s impossible to ignore the recent achievements of the Orioles. Here is a club that went 52-110 just three years ago and finished 48 games behind AL East division-winner Tampa Bay Rays.

In a remarkable climb from the dungeon of baseball, the Orioles, in the span of two short seasons, rose to the top of the baseball world. Starting a nine-game, three-city road trip on Sept. 1, only the Atlanta Braves had a better record in the majors.

Statistically, the Orioles are pretty much in the middle of the pack and little jumps out to observers. Coming into the month of September, the Birds were sixth in the American League in hitting, eight in ERA but tied with Texas and Tampa as the league’s best team fielding percentage. Not much to distinguish, but the Orioles keep winning.

“We’ve been pretty consistent all season, and win many series,” said manager Brendon Hyde prior to the Sept 1 game with Arizona. “I think our guys have a great way about them. We’re never too up and never too down. We stay in most series and have a chance to win nearly every series we are in.”

Perhaps the titular head of the starting rotation is right-hander Kyle Bradish, an Arizona native who was originally drafted by the Angles and dealt to Orioles in Dec., 2019 for pitcher Dylan Bundy. Over the past two seasons, Bradish, who is scheduled to pitch against Arizona on Sept, 2 and have about 50 family members and friends in attendance, has emerged as one of the top pitchers in the American League.

Sporting a 3.03 ERA coming into that start against the Diamondbacks, Bradish is 9-6 and opponents are hitting .226 against the 26-year-old. Add righthander Kyle Gibson (13-8, 5.15 for 28 starts) and right-hander Dean Kremer (12-5, 4.20 for 27 starts) and Hyde has three dependable starters at the top of the rotation.

Despite reliable starting pitching, the Orioles may have to go the rest of the season and post-season without one of their most important contributors. Closer Felix Bautista, with 33 saves, injured an ulnar collateral ligament and placed on the injured list Aug. 25.  In his place, Hyde could turn to Yennier Cano, who, through games of Sept.1, has five saves.

“Our starting pitching has really improved,” Hyde added. “If you look at our numbers in the second half, these have greatly improved. Simple, we have a bunch of talented guys. We’re excited how our team is playing and just want to finish the season strong.”

Opening the road trip … The Orioles had a history with Zack Davies, the Arizona starter on Friday night. Drafted by the Birds in the 2011 draft, he was dealt to Milwaukee and did not pitch for Baltimore. Through his MLB journey, Davis appeared for the Brewers, Padres, and Cubs before signing with Arizona as a free agent before the 2022 season. Spending most of the current season on injured reserve, Davis produced his best effort on Sept. 1 against the organization that originally drafted the right-hander.

Turning in six solid innings, Davies allowed four hits, one run and struck out five in a 4-2 Arizona victory over the O’s before 18,248 in Chase Field. Afterward, he pointed out there was no retribution in defeating a team to which he was originally drafted.

“Many people bring that up and for me, it’s not about revenge,” Davies said after raising his season mark to 2-5. “I’ve been traded three times and I’ve been on five different teams. I’m just going out to compete and win games. We’re on a stretch here for the playoffs and that’s where my concentration is right now.”

Baltimore starter Cole Irvin was touched by a pair of two-run homers and that created his demise. First, he surrendered a two-run bomb to Lourdes Gurriel, Jr. in the first inning and Christian Walker torched Irwin for a two-run blast in the sixth.

The series resumes on Saturday. That’s when Arizona native Kyle Bradish (9-6, 3.03) takes on Diamondbacks’ rookie right-hander Slade Cecconi (0-0, 2.57). In the Sunday afternoon finale, look for Diamondbacks’ ace Zac Gallen 14-6, 3.32) to oppose right-hander Jack Flaherty (8-8, 4.73).

The Orioles then move to Anaheim for three with the Angles and finish the current trip with three in Fenway Park with the Red Sox. They return home to Camden Yards on Sept. 11 and face the St. Louis Cardinals.

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