MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Far from being a great road trip, or even a good one, and ending with a thud on Wednesday when a fourth-inning meltdown led to the Baltimore Orioles getting pasted by the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2, the five-game trip through Chicago and Tampa seemed to be enough, even if it produced just two wins.

Those two wins continue to tell the story about these Orioles, as they avoided a three-game sweep to the Cubs on Sunday with a solid 6-3 win and then opened their two-game series against the first-place Rays on Tuesday with an 8-6 win.

That win brought the O’s to within two games of the Rays in the loss column, which is kind of remarkable when you consider the start to the season Tampa rocketed to. And truthfully, it’s not as though they have slowed down very much, which is a good indicator as to how well the Orioles have been playing this season.

On Tuesday, Baltimore ambushed Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, who had never lost to the O’s before, with six runs in the first two innings to jump ahead. They were, however, forced to bite their nails again as their middle relievers continue to be the soft spot of this current roster as the Rays rallied to within 7-6 before Ryan O’Hearn, who, along with Aaron Hicks, has been a godsend, homered for a late insurance run.

Once the Orioles get to the eighth inning with a lead, you have to like their chances with Yennier Canó and Felix Bautista being nearly unhittable so far. That was a moot point on Wednesday, as neither one was needed, as starter Tyler Wells gave up fourth-inning back-to-back solo home runs, which in itself is fine, but then compounded matters with a costly throwing error that brought in two more runs.

Of course, just prior to that, Wells had some assistance from shortstop Jorge Mateo, who seemed to fall asleep in missing a cutoff that could have gotten an out for the Orioles and prevented at least one run from scoring.

Despite a pair of solo homers from Ramon Urias and Gunnar Henderson, the Orioles offense had no answer for Rays starter Taj Bradley or the Tampa bullpen, so they settled for a split of the two-game series, which, truthfully, they would have welcomed before they even landed in Tampa, as the Rays, who have the best record in baseball, are 32-8 at home.

With the Rays atop all standings at 52-25, the Orioles remain right there breathing down their necks at 45-28 five games behind (three in the loss column) in the American League East; and as the halfway mark of the season approaches, they lead the AL wild-card race by five games.

So, again, not a great road trip, not a good one, but enough of a road trip against a suddenly-hot Cubs team and the Rays, who are presently the best team in baseball.

From this perspective, the two wins on this road trip tell the story about this club because just when you think they’re finally going to hit a bit of a skid, they bounce back with a strong win as they did at Wrigley. The Orioles have yet to be swept in a series this year because, for beginners, they’re just a very good team (it’s okay to say it, O’s fans) and they are the personification of stick-to-itiveness and playing one game at a time. They’re good, and they’re grinders, and I believe that is a great reflection on their manager, Brandon Hyde.

The Orioles are an organization that counts on all 40 players on their 40-man organizational roster to win Major League games today. At the same time, General Manager Mike Elias is at the point in this build (it’s no longer a rebuild) where he can take a chance on an available and affordable player from outside the organization to add proven big-league talent to replace injured players.

Hicks, for instance, was a slick sign on Elias’ part, for not only has he done a tremendous job filling in for injured Cedric Mullins, he will be going nowhere once Mullins returns, which only makes the Orioles deeper and better.

The cat’s out of the bag with the Orioles now. The talent is there and more is on the way, just as it is in Houston for the Astros, from where Elias came with the same player development blueprint in his mitts.

Most important of all, the Orioles players believe. They believe they are going to win every day or night they step on the field. They don’t, but they believe they’re going to and that’s what’s dangerous about them. They believe because they know they’re good, and they know they are getting better every time they go out there.

Better yet, the Orioles don’t give up – in any game. They have produced 25 come-from-behind wins already this season because they believe in their defense and in the back end of their bullpen, and they believe in their talent.

Ideally, the starting pitchers will finally begin to pitch deeper into games, for while the starting pitching has been very good, the current middle relief is just not getting it done.

Elias said not long ago the Orioles will be a team that will look to add during the trade-deadline period, meaning it’s game on. They’re not going anywhere. Matter of fact, they plan on hanging around. They just showed us that with their not-great, not even good, but enough five-game road trip.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT