MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals

Baltimore Orioles making race for the AL pennant more than just a two-team battle

It’s never safe to make presumptions—especially in the realm of sports prognostications.

So when it was determined that the Oakland A’s and Detroit Tigers have become virtual locks to hook up in the American League Championship Series following their respective pre-trade deadline deals in order to bolster already-stellar starting pitching rotations, we were all setting ourselves up for a big fall.

Detroit and Oakland meeting for the right to play in the World Series is most definitely a possibility—not a certainty.

The Angels are making the A’s sweat in the AL West despite having baseball’s best record. Despite losing five of its past six games and having a .223 batting average since the All-Star break, Los Angeles is four games back heading into a three-game series with Philadelphia. That’s certainly not an overwhelming deficit—especially when you have Mike Trout on your side.

The Halos got overlooked for AL supremacy throughout the first part of the year. But the combination of a star slugger and a July hot streak has kept them far more prevalent than two teams very much under-the-radar.

Surprisingly receiving a lack of notice all year have been the Baltimore Orioles, who have yet to have a losing streak longer than four and went five games up on the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East this weekend.

Even with Chris Davis far off last year’s remarkable power rate (20 home runs and 55 RBI in 2014), the O’s have gotten their main offensive contributions from Nelson Cruz, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis.

One year after his Biogenesis-related suspension came down while playing for Texas, Cruz has found asylum in the Charm City, with 30 home runs (second-best in the league) and 80 RBI.

Augmenting his defensive prowess in center field, Jones is among the league leaders in hits (136) and total bases (227). The only Oriole with more hits than Jones is Markakis (now at 142). He also tops the club in batting average (.292).

For all the team’s run scoring, the Baltimore pitching doesn’t get a lot of play. However, the staff ERA of 3.67 ranks sixth in the AL. Starter Wei-Yin Chen’s 12 wins is just one off the league lead, while Chris Tillman and Bud Norris are knocking on the door of 10 victories.

But no arm is hotter than that of closer Zach Britton. He has made manager Buck Showalter breathe easy in the late going, with nine saves in 10 chances since the All-Star break and 24 saves converted for the year.

Manny Machado’s recent knee injury aside, the Orioles have given the cartoon bird on their hats reason to smile and their fans reason to pack Camden Yards (still the best stadium in baseball) and hope for a World Series—something that hasn’t occurred in 31 years.

If you think the Orioles’ title drought is severe, at least they’ve reached the playoffs recently.

The only presumption that can be made is that the eventual winner of the American League pennant is anybody’s guess.

Brian Wright

About Brian Wright

With over a decade's worth of sports journalism experience, MLB Lead Writer Brian Wright has been featured on Bleacher Report, SB Nation, as well as the Washington Examiner. He is currently the host of his own sports history podcast, 'Profiles in Sports'. While attending Virginia Tech, Brian covered Frank Beamer's Hokie football teams (among other sports) for the school's daily campus newspaper. Nothing would please him more than a World Series title for his beloved New York Mets.