It’s been a while since the stakes were so high for a series involving the Orioles and Yankees.
But that’s the case when the teams meet Sept. 11-13 for four games that could decide a spot in the postseason.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has downplayed any questions about the playoffs. However, the Orioles (20-22) trail the Yankees (22-21) by just 1.5 games for the eighth and final spot in the postseason.
The Orioles can overtake New York this weekend.
“I think we’re focused on the Orioles right now and we need to win as many games as possible,” Hyde said. “I’d be lying to say I didn’t know what was going on around the league and I didn’t watch highlights at night and check scores and watch MLB Network the next day just to see what’s happening. But I think our main focus is, it doesn’t matter what the league does if we don’t win.”
The Orioles get a boost in the series opener with the return of Alex Cobb, who has been on the injured list for an undisclosed reason. The veteran right-hander was a key trade chip, but he’ll remain with the club for the rest of the 2020 season. Cobb has been mostly solid and is 1-3 with a 4.33 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in seven starts (35.1. innings). He’ll face Gerrit Cole (4-3, 3.63) in the first game of a doubleheader on Sept. 11.
Rookie left-hander Keegan Akin will start the second game of the double-header opposite Masahiro Tanaka (1-2, 3.38 ERA). Akin outdueled Cole in his last start and has 15 strikeouts over 13 innings this season.
Another Orioles rookie, Dean Kremer (1-0, 1.50), will look to build off a solid outing in his first career start. Kremer allowed one and one hit with seven strikeouts in six innings during a 5-1 win over the Yankees Sept. 8. He’ll face Jordan Montgomery (2-2, 5.72) Sept. 12.
Hyde likes the energy Kremer and Akin bring to the rotation.
“You’re talking about two really confident guys and I like the makeup of both those guys,” Hyde said. “They feel like they belong here and that’s really a huge step in the process of being a major league player is to feel that you can compete here and you belong here and that your stuff works at this level.”
“Kremer’s had that one start, but it’s obvious that he threw the ball very, very well, that his stuff plays in the big leagues,” he added. And Akin pitched well. I would hope they would consider this another start. The games might mean a lot, but I would love for them to just take this as another start and have the same competitive attitude they always have.”
John Means, a finalist for AL Rookie of the Year last season, will look to get back on track. He’s had a challenging summer dealing with the recent death of his father and arm fatigue. However, Means (1-3, 6.58 ERA) can build off his last start when he picked up a victory against the Mets after allowing one run in six innings. He’ll face left-hander J.A. Happ (1-2, 4.31 ERA) in the finale.
“I look for John to have a really good September,” Hyde said. “Now that he’s healthy and feels good, I look forward to him pitching well this last month.”
The Orioles have also been solid offensively. Rookie Ryan Mountcastle has been as good as advertised, slashing .383/.441/.633 with four home runs and 14 RBIs in 60 at-bats. The light has also gone on for fellow outfielder DJ Stewart, who became the first Orioles hitter to homer in four straight games since Renato Núñez accomplished that feat in May 2019.
“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t play well the rest of the year, and I think whatever happens happens,” Hyde said. “Obviously, we’d love for our team to continue to experience these games that matter the last two weeks. We don’t have many in that room who have been in a pennant race, so I think continuing to play games that matter is really beneficial to our guys.
“But there’s still a lot of baseball, for me, to be played and there’s still a lot of teams that are right there, also. And we have a very difficult schedule going forward.”
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