CHICAGO — Before all this winning suddenly became commonplace, the Orioles hadn’t shown an ability to string victories together. They hadn’t completed a sweep of an opponent through June, until that three-game series against the Texas Rangers last week served as a launching pad to so much more.
Now Baltimore has won three straight series for the first time since 2005, with the Los Angeles Angels falling in four games before the Chicago Cubs were dispatched at Wrigley Field. The latest win, the Orioles’ 10th in a row, came 7-1 over the Cubs on Wednesday night to end a two-game set against their National League opposition.
With that victory, the Orioles (45-44) also jumped above .500 this late in the season for the first time since Sept. 8, 2017. With a doubleheader sweep of the Washington Nationals, the Seattle Mariners are tied with the Orioles for the longest winning streak in baseball at 10 games, with each team vaulting into American League wild-card contention.
Since moving to Baltimore in 1954, the Orioles’ longest winning streak is 14 games, a feat accomplished twice and most recently in 1973. That also tied the original franchise record set in 1916 when the team was known as the St. Louis Browns.
On July 2, the Orioles were nine games under .500 when they lost to the Minnesota Twins on a walk-off for the second consecutive game. Since then, Baltimore has taken flight.
“Every day we show up to the field, we feel like we’re gonna win the game and should win the game,” outfielder Austin Hays said before the game. “That’s a feeling we haven’t had here in the last few years. And that alone breeds confidence with every guy in the locker room, knowing when you show up you have a chance to win every game.”
Before right-hander Spenser Watkins even stepped on the mound Wednesday, he had a three-run lead to work with. And with his form of late since returning from the injured last month, three runs were surplus.
Across his last four outings, Watins has allowed a combined three earned runs. He gave up just one off a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning, going on to complete five frames while allowing four hits and two walks and striking out five. He drew 10 whiffs, including three with his slider — a pitch he only introduced midway through this season.
He still faced traffic on the bases, with runners on second and third with one out in the third, for instance. But Watkins secured consecutive strikeouts to escape that situation without any runs against him.
Singles from Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle set up for a two-run double for Anthony Santander, and Hays’ single — and an error in left field from Ian Happ — plated Santander. The Orioles added to that cushion with an RBI double from Trey Mancini the next inning.
And as good teams do, the Orioles tacked on runs late. Adley Rutschman drove in Hays with a double that one-hopped the ivy in center field, and Rougned Odor’s single plated Rutschman. Then a balk from left-hander Daniel Norris brought home a third run in the eighth, propelling the pitching staff to a comfortable outing after winning seven of the previous nine games by two runs or fewer.
After Watkins, the bullpen carried on with its steady outings of late. Right-hander Dillon Tate retired all three batters he faced, and Cionel Pérez did the same. In 6 1/3 innings this month, Pérez hasn’t allowed a base runner. Bryan Baker struck out two in the ninth, including Cubs rookie Christopher Morel to end the game.
There are some tweaks Hays has needed to make to account for his sore right wrist, but they’re minute. His backswing is more one-handed than it had been, giving his wrist a break. He’s lowered the intensity of some of his hitting drills in the cage.
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But beyond that, Hays feels good enough to play with the tape wrapped tightly around his wrist. He first hurt that wrist making a diving play against the Chicago White Sox late last month, and then aggravated the injury when he was hit by a pitch July 4 on that wrist.
It’s not worth an injured list stint, however, Hays said. And while he entered Wednesday’s game with three hits in his last 42 at-bats since June 28, Hays broke out with a four-hit performance in the second game at Wrigley Field, lashing singles through the infield before launching a double over Happ’s head in the eighth inning and hitting another single in the ninth.
This story will be updated.
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