The Baltimore Orioles were barely a blip on the radar of preseason predictions, with most experts putting them in the middle of the notoriously strong AL East. Yet, here the Orioles are, atop the division heading into the second month of the season.
They’ve done it despite starting the season 1-4, mostly through timely series wins over teams struggling in the middle of the divisional standings. However, for a team ascending to the top from the middle, it’s not just divisional matchups that matter, but proving that they can compete with the best teams in the entire league.
Thus, the Orioles’ current three-game series against the Detroit Tigers is especially important, because of the undisputed fact that the Tigers are and have been one of the best teams in baseball over the past several years.
The best way to prove a team’s worth? Play and succeed against the best. Detroit has the best winning percentage in baseball, at .647 (22-12). More than that, the Tigers have a tradition of divisional dominance that has allowed them to take the AL Central title for the past three straight years.
They already have a 5.5 game lead over a second-place tie between the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City Royals, a huge margin compared to the mere 1.5 games the Orioles currently hold over the second-place Boston Red Sox. The entire deficit from top to bottom in the AL East spans just five games.
Detroit took two of the two teams’ first three matchups in the second series of the season back in April. The Tigers won again in the first game of their final series of the season tonight in a game that featured emptied benches after Orioles starter Bud Norris hit Torii Hunter in the top of the eighth inning, shortly after the Tigers padded their lead.
The Orioles have two chances left to show they can compete against the Tigers. They need to use them wisely, and channel that bench-clearing fire into productive victories and not frustrating defeats.