The addition of a second wild card has kept plenty of teams playing meaningful games around Major League Baseball well into September. But when it comes to the real pennant races, only the AL East is any fun.
Four of the five teams are within four games—a smaller spread than the top two teams in any other division—and after winning two of three in Boston, the second-place Orioles have moved to within a game of the division-leading Red Sox.
Last night, the Orioles eked out a 1-0 victory to become the first team this season to beat 20-game winner Rick Porcello in Boston. The only meaningful offense of the night came when Mark Trumbo muscled a second-inning pitch over the wall and out of the stadium. His majors-leading 42nd dinger was also his career-high 100th RBI of the season. Still nursing a one-run lead in the ninth, the Orioles turned to Zach Britton, who recorded his 43rd save—the third highest in all of baseball.
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But perhaps most exciting for Orioles fans with an eye on the future was that, in between, Kevin Gausman pitched eight scoreless innings—his fourth scoreless appearance in five starts dating back to August 23.
The Orioles had been conservative with their fourth overall pick from the 2012 draft in previous years, moving him in and out of the bullpen to keep his innings down (he’s a skinny dude with a funky motion, which makes evaluators nervous). It looked like he finally had full rein this season, but he started the year with such prodigious lack of run support that it took him until late June to record his first victory despite pitching pretty well for an otherwise solid team. Of course, the losses in his first five decisions weren’t just a result of poor offensive support: He struggled to limit dingers the whole first half of the season.
Getting the long ball under control has been a pivotal part of his recent success. Since the All-Star break, Gausman has cut his home runs allowed by over 30 percent and in the past five starts he’s posted a 0.82 ERA with not one dinger donged. Wednesday’s win—against a Cy Young candidate who has been unbeatable at home—makes for an especially poignant high mark after Gausman languished through a several-seasons-stretch of 25 road starts without recording a win.
Those superlatives and stats are awfully nice to look at but beyond that, all of these individual accomplishments are actually amounting to something. As the AL East heats up, the Orioles are keeping pace in a race that won’t end in a bullshit one-game playoff.