Senior Baseball Columnist

Weekend Buzz: The Grinnin' Cartoon Orioles are back and knocking on the Yanks' door


Luis Ayala and the Orioles' bullpen are 58-0 in games they're leading after the seventh inning. (US Presswire)  
Luis Ayala and the Orioles' bullpen are 58-0 in games they're leading after the seventh inning. (US Presswire)  

The Weekend Buzz while you were hoping Clint Eastwood fares better and makes more sense in Trouble With the Curve than he did talking to an empty chair the other night. ...

1. O say can you see: The Orioles in the playoffs? Game on.

If you've not trusted them all summer, now is the time to start. If you've doubted 'em, dissed 'em, ignored 'em, questioned 'em, scratched your head at 'em, rolled your eyes at 'em, wagged your finger at 'em ... well, I can show you a group that was chanting "Let's Go O's" in mighty Yankee Stadium Sunday. And you might want to join 'em.

What colleague Danny Knobler correctly termed baseball's "craziest best story" Friday night is rapidly gaining momentum. Wait another week and there may not be any seats left on the bandwagon.

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Me, I can't explain why Knobler can't explain the Orioles ("It's a lot easier to appreciate this team than it is to explain it").

Clearly, the transition back to the Grinnin' Cartoon Oriole on the caps is what's changed things for the better.

Look at Mark Reynolds. Never before has he looked better than in his past 23 games, during which he now is hitting .320 with 16 walks, 12 extra-base hits (including eight homers), 15 runs and 16 RBI. Reynolds walloped two homers Friday night and two more Sunday, becoming the first visiting player to collect two multi-homer games in Yankee Stadium in one series since David Ortiz in July, 2003, back in the days when the Red Sox weren't oozing all over the floor like sludge from a backed-up toilet.

Look at the bullpen, where Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Luis Ayala, Darren O'Day and Co. have been so trustworthy that the Orioles now are 58-0 in games they're leading after the seventh inning.

Look at the manager's chair, where Buck Showalter is pulling the strings with the precision of a world-class harpist. It's no accident that the Orioles built a franchise-record streak of 13 consecutive wins in one-run games until finally losing 4-3 to the Yankees on Saturday. It was the longest winning streak in one-run games since the 1984 Blue Jays won 19 in a row, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The Orioles overall now are 46-19 in games decided by one run (24-7) or two runs (22-12).

Look at the general manager's office, where Dan Duquette didn't do anything splashy over the winter (see Pujols, Albert or Darvish, Yu) but was pitch-perfect in signing Taiwanese lefty Wei-Yin Chen. And it's been fun watching him acquire Jim Thome, Joe Saunders and Randy Wolf, like buying one lottery ticket after another, as the Orioles scramble to make their first postseason since 1997.

Baltimore trailed the Yankees by 10 games in the AL East on July 18. They've chopped that deficit to two games despite one challenge after another, the latest being starter Chris Tillman having to leave Sunday's start early with a sore elbow.

The Orioles won all three series at Yankee Stadium this summer, the first time they've done that since 1976. At 74-59, the O's have bagged their most victories since 2005, when they also won 74.

Look at 'em. Every time the Orioles look at themselves in the mirror, they're attempting to out-grin the Grinnin' Cartoon Oriole. They haven't looked this good in a long, long time.

2. The Athletics, too: Within days of celebrating the 10th anniversary of their 2002 team that won 20 consecutive games, the Athletics reeled off a nine-game winning streak, heading into this week's showdown series with the Angels. If they can push this into the playoffs, there's this: Brandon McCarthy, since 2009, is 9-0 against AL East clubs -- most wins without a loss for any major league pitcher against the AL East, according to Stats LLC. Since the suspension of Bartolo Colon, the A's have gone 10-1 and gained three games on first-place Texas.

3. About that AL Manager of the Year award: Baltimore's Showalter about has it wrapped up, right? Nope, how about Oakland's Bob Melvin -- it's him, right? Nope, what about the White Sox Robin Ventura? This is not to endorse any of those three quite yet. We've got one more month to see what happens. But if these three teams continue playing as they are, the AL Manager race might be the most competitive award of the year.

4. Kids, they grow up so fast: Bryce Harper, old man? Beginning to seem like it. Rangers phenom Jurickson Profar debuted in Cleveland on Sunday, and in one of those only-in-baseball cool moments, Profar made his major-league debut at 19 years, 195 days old ... exactly when Harper made his debut three months ago. Profar homered and doubled, becoming the first teenager with two extra-base hits in his first career game in the bigs since Johnny Callison in 1958.

5. Bring back Disney's script-writers: Stephen Strasburg went six innings in Washington's 4-3 win over St. Louis on Sunday, bringing him to 156 1/3 innings pitched this year. The clock is about to strike midnight, Strasburg will go poof and the Nationals will become pumpkins well before Halloween. Or something like that.

6. Not to be oblique, but: Coming off of a big weekend in Detroit in which Adam Dunn (oblique strain) missed Saturday night's game and was not in the starting lineup Sunday night, the White Sox need some quick healing from their big slugger before the Tigers visit Chicago for a four-game series -- the final time these two AL Central contenders meet in 2012 -- beginning Sept. 10. See you there.

7. Anybody want those NL wild-card slots? The Braves have lost four of five. After starting a key trip with a series win in Cincinnati, the Cardinals dropped five of their last seven games against the Pirates and Nationals and failed to score against four of the past five starting pitchers they've faced (Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Wandy Rodriguez). Losing shortstop Rafael Furcal (elbow) for the season only makes it tougher. The Dodgers, meantime, have gone 4-5 since acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto from Boston and have been shut out twice. Maybe Gonzo's game-winner Sunday against Arizona will be what gets them going.

8. Jimmy Rollins back in the lineup: But only after hustling into manager Charlie Manuel's office for a meeting.

9. The Yankees: Scuffling right now, sure. But hey, at least they're not the Red Sox!

10. Chase-ing respectability: Chase Headley piled onto his already career-year numbers in a wild Coors Field game Sunday, going 4 for 5 with six RBI as the Padres, despite 20 hits, lost 11-10 to the Rockies. Headley now has 23 homers and 89 RBI for Bud Black's fast-finishing club which, at 42-31 (.575) into Sunday, had the third-best winning percentage in the NL since June 12.


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