The 2016 Baltimore Orioles have the third-worst starting rotation ERA in the Major Leagues at 5.14. That figure leads only the Minnesota Twins and Cincinnati Reds, both of whom sit last in their respective divisions. And yet, the Orioles have found a way to make up for their struggles on the mound. Their bullpen and defense have been strong, and the offense might be baseball's best. Baltimore leads the major leagues in home runs and is also fifth in team batting average.
All of these strengths were on display this week when the team visited the Los Angeles Dodgers. The defense didn't commit a single error in the series, the bullpen was stone-cold in the last two games, and the offense was able to come up with clutch hits. Baltimore took two of the three contests and remained atop the AL East Standings.
Los Angeles took the July 4 series opener, for which both teams wore one-time, star-spangled uniforms. Baltimore scored three runs in the top of the second, but the Dodgers got two back in the bottom half. The teams added two each in the fourth inning, giving the Orioles a 5-4 lead. Reliever Odrisamer Despaigne couldn't keep it there, however. The Dodgers scored runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth against him, with Justin Turner's sacrifice fly ultimately acting as the game-winner.
Chris Tillman answered with a strong seven-inning performance Tuesday night, allowing just five hits and one run. Manny Machado gave Baltimore the lead with a towering three-run homer in the fifth. The shot chased Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda from the game, and Los Angeles could never answer.
Machado turned 24 Wednesday, and evidently his gift from the baseball gods was a 14-inning marathon on a getaway day. Turner launched a two-run homer in the first off Kevin Gausman, who also gave up a two-run double to Adrian Gonzalez in the fifth. But Mark Trumbo knotted things up at 4-4 in the sixth with his second homer in as many at-bats and 26th of the season (most in the majors). This score held all the way through the 14th inning, when Jonathan Schoop laced a two-run double to center. Zach Britton, somehow unused to this point, subsequently entered and nailed down the save. He is 25-for-25 in save opportunities this year with a 0.76 ERA.
The Orioles will most likely enter the All-Star Break in first place, as they lead Toronto by two games and Boston by three. Los Angeles is currently holding the second NL Wild Card spot, but trails the Giants by 6.5 games in the division.
Rookie shortstop Corey Seager hit safely in all three games of the series, extending his hitting streak to 19. That's the longest in the National League this season and the third longest in the majors, behind only Red Sox teammates Jackie Bradley (29) and Xander Bogaerts (26). Seager went 0-for-4 Thursday night against San Diego, so the streak failed to reach 20, but he's still the frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year and arguably the best shortstop in the league at age 22.
Chase Utley went 6-for-7 Wednesday, the first six-hit game of his 14-year career. In one afternoon, his batting average rose from .255 to .270. He's been hitting leadoff for Los Angeles lately, even though he made his name further down in the lineup.
Trumbo, the big-league leader with 26 home runs, has already surpassed his total from last season (he hit 22 for Arizona and Seattle across 142 games). This power surge can't be a total surprise, though. He's 30 and in a contract year, and he did hit 29, 32 and 34 homers for the Angels in 2011-13. Perhaps more notable, then, is his .285 average, 31 points higher than his career mark and 17 points higher than his best season.
Lost in the Orioles' offensive dominance this year has been Schoop. The 24-year-old second baseman is hitting .298 with 13 homers and 50 runs batted in, and has played strong defense, as well. He's not an All-Star, but very well could be in the coming years.
Baltimore will send five players (Machado, Trumbo, Britton, catcher Matt Wieters and reliever Brad Brach) to San Diego, while the Dodgers' representatives will be Seager, closer Kenley Jansen and injured ace Clayton Kershaw. Trumbo and Seager will square off in the opening round of Monday's Home Run Derby, so technically, these teams aren't done facing one another.