As July came to a close, the lists of baseball's buyers and sellers were becoming clear. Almost everyone expected the Orioles to be on the second list.Yet even as Baltimore closed the month three games below .500 at 51-54, the club bucked expectations. All-Star relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton
As July came to a close, the lists of baseball's buyers and sellers were becoming clear. Almost everyone expected the Orioles to be on the second list.
Yet even as Baltimore closed the month three games below .500 at 51-54, the club bucked expectations. All-Star relievers Brad Brach and Zach Britton stayed put when most anticipated they'd be on the move. Meanwhile, the Orioles acquired starter Jeremy Hellickson from Philadelphia and shortstop Timothy Beckham from American League East rival Tampa Bay. Sabermetricians put Baltimore's chances of making the postseason at less than 5 percent as the calendar flipped to August, yet the Orioles were adding instead of subtracting.
Of course, we should know by now that almost no team is truly "out" of the postseason chase until the very end. The creation of the second Wild Card has kept hope alive into the last days of summer, and the Orioles are taking advantage of their extension. Beckham has been among the Majors' hottest hitters since donning black and orange, and the O's have played above-.500 ball in August -- riding a six-game winning streak -- to trim their Wild Card deficit from 4 1/2 games on the morning of Aug. 1 to just 1 1/2 games today.
Remaining above .500 remains the No. 1 goal, as Orioles manager Buck Showalter reminded media members recently. But opportunity awaits both the Orioles and the visiting Mariners, who are just three games back of a playoff berth, as they close a three-game set at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. First pitch is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. ET.
That's not the only direct confrontation between Wild Card contenders on the outside looking in, as the Cardinals and Brewers will square off in the heartland. Meanwhile, two other games offer a glimpse at potential series matchups come October. The dog days of summer are ending, but the pennant races are just heating up -- with all of them unfolding live on MLB.TV.
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Here's what else to watch for throughout the day (all times in ET):
First-place clubs open twin bill: CLE@NYY, 1:05 p.m.
These two clubs boast two of the best bullpens in baseball, but the Tribe may have a trump card in infielder Jose Ramirez. The All-Star appears unfazed by the potential flamethrowers he could face out of the Yankees 'pen, considering he homered off two 98-plus mph fastballs from Luis Severino in Cleveland's 6-2 win Monday.
Tuesday's rainout created an old-school straight doubleheader Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, and it will be southpaw Jaime Garcia taking the ball in Game 1 for New York. Garcia was acquired to help stabilize the Yankees' rotation, but he has allowed a barrel rate of nearly 11 percent on batted balls in his first four starts in pinstripes, per Statcast™. That's more than twice the rate of barrels he had allowed with St. Louis, Atlanta or Minnesota since the start of 2015.
Flame-thrower vs. contact specialist: STL@MIL, 2:10 p.m.
This matchup in Milwaukee features a contrast of styles: Hard velocity from the mound vs. soft contact from the batter.
Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez (10-9, 3.48 ERA) has as live an arm as any starter in the Majors. The right-hander's average velocity on all fastballs is 95.7 mph, fifth highest among full-time starting pitchers, and he's thrown the fastest pitch by a starting pitcher in the sixth, eighth and ninth innings this season, according to Statcast™.
Martinez's counterpart trades in some fastball velocity for soft contact. Chase Anderson (7-3, 2.87 ERA) only averages 92.5 mph on his fastballs, but the 84.2 mph average exit velocity he's allowed is tied for fourth-lowest among MLB starters (min. 250 batted balls induced).
With the Cubs still holding a small cushion atop the National League Central, the Cardinals and Brewers find themselves in a four-horse race with the Rockies and Marlins for the second NL Wild Card position.
Ryu, Ray roll into the desert: LAD@ARI, 9:40 p.m.
Hyun-Jin Ryu (5-6, 3.34 ERA) might not start a first-round game for the Dodgers, should the team clinch a spot in the NL Division Series. Yet, in a nod to Los Angeles' extraordinary starting pitch depth, Ryu's 1.54 ERA in the second half is second only to Giovany Gonzalez of the Nationals (min. five starts).
Meanwhile, Robbie Ray (10-5, 3.06 ERA) put on a show the last time he faced the Dodgers on July 6, racking up 13 strikeouts on a season-high 24 swinging strikes over just six innings in the D-backs' 5-4 loss. The southpaw has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings in 11 career starts against the Dodgers, and he carries some momentum into this one. Ray didn't miss a beat in his return from the disabled list last Thursday, when he struck out nine Mets while holding New York to a run on two hits over five frames.
Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.