The Gauntlet: Westward Bound

Minnick is a guest blogger for Section 336 and can be found weekly on the Section 336 show with This Week in Orioles history

When I was a kid you could find many things on the floor of my bedroom, baseball cards strewn about in neat piles by team, my talking ALF doll beside me (elating me by day and terrifying me by night) and me playing Gauntlet on my NES system for hours on end. As we break for this year’s mid-summer classic it is a different kind of gauntlet awaiting us that has me troubled. For the next few days Adam, Nelson and Matt will be living out boyhood fantasies, as I am reminded of mine. Much like that game from my childhood there is a monster around every corner and the Orioles will have to be good enough to get past them for us to reach the end goal.

The gauntlet I am alluding to is the upcoming 16 game AL West road trip then immediate home stand we are about to wade though. The AL West is about to consume our lives as Orioles fans and I can’t remember the last time, if ever, that playing Oakland, the LA Angels and Seattle seemed so important. There are Divisional and Championship implications to be made here as we go up against three of the top five teams in the league and face two of them twice. So let’s have a look at what we can expect.

The Oakland Athletics are the best team in baseball going into the All-Star break, period. Despite being 9th in the league in average they walk more than anyone else in the league and are second in runs but 8th in hits. This tells me that they are getting timely hits. They take advantage of free bases and doubles, bringing them in with a homerun or base hit. Their pitchers have the best ERA in the league and allow the fewest runs. Approach needed: patience and command. If we can work their starters for walks and sit on our pitches we will have a better chance at scoring runs. If our starters can command the strike zone, limiting walks then we will in turn break their bread and butter of cashing in on free passes and give our defense the chance to shine as the Athletics put the ball in play.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, in turn, might be the hottest team in baseball. They are winners of 9 in their last 10 games and the thorn in the side of Oakland who just can’t get a comfortable lead. However, they spent their last 10 games beating up on Texas, Toronto and Houston. They win against those who they are supposed to, as their schedule in June and July has not been much of a challenge.  They are getting by on offense with the play of four guys, in Trout, Pujols, Aybar and Kendrick. Those guys combine for over half of their RBI, Homerun and Stolen Base totals. Their starters will give up runs with Richards being the only one with a sub three ERA. Then there is Weaver and Wilson having given up more home runs this year than everyone on our staff aside from Chen despite very solid backgrounds. Approach needed: Don’t let their big four get comfortable at the plate and be aggressive with their starters early in the game. If we can keep their starting pitchers on the field and get on the board early we will have an easier time holding off the four main threats in their lineup. They don’t have a deep lineup and those four are spread out a bit in the lineup so we should be able to give them a run for their money.

The Seattle Mariners are the least of the three monsters before us. Losing two of their last three series versus the White Sox and Twins they turn around and take two of three from the Athletics going into the break. They have been similarly unpredictable all year relying on Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano to jumpstart their pitching staff and lineup respectively. Hernandez is the starter for the AL team at this year’s All-Star game and deserves the respect of any true ace in the league. Be prepared, if he is on his game we are going to strike out and he will go deep into the game. We will only matchup against him if we can be aggressive and have a starter on the mound who can blank their team deep into the game as well. Iwakuma is also having a decent year with a sub three ERA and a 1.0 WHIP, however he won’t go as late into games. Their hitting is a different story. They get by on the skin of their teeth and are in the bottom half of the league in just about every statistical category. In their last ten games they have only scored three or more runs three times. Approach Needed: Control Cano and Seager at the plate and again play to our defensive strength by letting them put the ball in play. We many not score a ton of runs against them but they can’t score many either so we are going to have to wear down their pitching to get enough runs to get by.

While we are certainly not going to have an easy time mixing it up with the AL West after the break, this gauntlet is not without its plunder. We have the tools needed to navigate through these teams and come out better for it. We will need to rely on Gausman and the return of a Healthy Bud Norris going deep. We will need to rely on our defense and letting the other team put the ball in play. Most importantly, Davis, Schoop and Tillman will need to pick themselves up and play to their potential. Our 2014 Orioles have the equipment needed to be our heroes this season. They just have to traverse the AL West gauntlet first.

Prediction: 9 Wins and 7 Losses over 16 games vs. Oak / LAA / SEA / LAA / SEA