Having managed more than 2,600 games in the majors, Buck Showalter has a good idea of what it will take for the Orioles to return to the postseason for the third time in five years.
There is no magic formula, even if it’s easier said than done as Baltimore begins a nine-game road trip, its longest of the season to this point. Entering Friday, the Orioles owned the best record in the American League but had played just 14 road games, the fewest in the majors.
“There are two common denominators of teams that play in October. They have an advantage at home and they are competitive on the road,” said Showalter, who reminded us that the season wouldn’t be over if the Orioles have a bad road trip. “We know we’ve got to follow that trend. It’s long, tried, and tested. There’s certain math that you do try to follow, but it’s not always that convenient and they don’t always cooperate.”
Baltimore has had that distinct advantage at home so far, winning 17 of 25. Success in their home ballpark is nothing new for the Orioles under Showalter as they’ve gone no worse than 46-35 at Camden Yards in each of the last four seasons.
Whether the Orioles will be competitive enough on the road remains to be seen after they went an abysmal 34-50 in away contests in 2015 — which included the three-game series moved to Tropicana Field last May. It was easily their worst record away from Camden Yards since 2011 and derailed the club’s chances to repeat as AL East champions. Two years ago, the Orioles were an impressive 46-35 on the road, helping them win the division by a comfortable 12 games.
So far in 2016, they’ve gone a respectable 7-7 in away games — including an early series win at Fenway Park — but they’ll be facing a Los Angeles Angels club that’s won six of seven, a young Houston team playing better after a miserable start, and second-place Cleveland in an unorthodox trip in terms of travel.
“Everyone here is experienced with that, so it’s not that big a deal,” said outfielder Mark Trumbo of starting a long road trip. “We want to win as many of those series as we can. I think we’ve got a good opportunity to do some damage, get the bats going a little bit, and it should be some fun.”
More importantly than getting the bats going after scoring just seven runs in a three-game series defeat to Seattle will be the pitching, which entered Friday ranked fifth in the AL in ERA. The Orioles boast a tidy 3.45 ERA in 25 home games, but their 4.31 ERA in 14 road games probably won’t get it done over the long haul.
The Orioles won’t return home again until Memorial Day, the unofficial point at which many attempt to differentiate the contenders from the pretenders. The nine-game road trip is hardly a season-defining one with more than four months of baseball to play, but it could push the Orioles further in a 2014-like direction or stir memories of last year’s frustration away from Camden Yards.
“We’re going to some places where people are playing well,” Showalter said. “Everybody’s trying to seek their level right now. We’re in the middle of May. Everybody’s trying to figure out who they are and [whether] they’re going to be a dancer or someone that spins the records. It’s part of the process.”
The Orioles hope that process doesn’t include spinning their wheels on the road after an encouraging start to 2016.