Peter Schmuck: O's make it feel like the leaves are turning already - BaltimoreBaseball.com
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Peter Schmuck: O’s make it feel like the leaves are turning already

Photo Credit: Reggie Hildred USA TODAY Sports

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BALTIMORE – This is May, right?

We can confirm that, but you wouldn’t have known it by the level of stress the Orioles have been playing under the past couple of weeks. They have stared down some of the best teams in both leagues and come out clean.

Their tense 3-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Sunday afternoon averted their first series sweep and clinched their third winning month after delivering an impressive April to serve notice that last year’s surprising performance was simply a sign of things to come.

But April did not feature the level of competition that they have faced during this just-completed  22-game stretch against teams that were above .500 at the time the Orioles encountered them. With Sunday’s victory, they completed that stretch with a 13-9 record that was highlighted by the 5-1 road trip against the Yankees and Blue Jays that featured three extra-inning games.

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October is four months away, but the young O’s are getting an early taste of what it will feel like if they make it into the postseason. Manager Brandon Hyde was saying even before Sunday’s game that the big series against top teams such as the Braves, Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees and Rangers had a playoff feel that would serve his players well going forward.

“Going into this series, I was really proud of our club and what we kind of went through on that road trip,” he said during his pregame press briefing. “I think it took a lot out of us, going 5-1 and playing three extra-inning games. Every game being close and the intensity of those games. It was borderline, late-September, pennant race atmosphere I felt like in Toronto and New York and a lot of fun for our guys to play and we played so well.

“Yeah, I’m happy with the way we’ve played against some really good teams so far this year and obviously want to see that continue … It’s been a good stretch. It’s been a tough month and we played good baseball just up until the last two days.”

Of course, he wasn’t thrilled with the way the Orioles played on Friday night, when they  suffered a double-digit loss to a Rangers team that has been doing that to a lot of opponents this season. The Orioles also made some uncharacteristic fundamental errors in Saturday’s loss. So there was some pressure to get out of the series with a victory on Sunday, and young starter Kyle Bradish stepped up to that challenge.

He pitched into the seventh inning and allowed just one run on four hits. He would not get the decision because the hot-hitting Rangers tied the game on an eighth-inning double by Corey Seager, but the Orioles answered with run on Austin Hays’ third hit of the game and closer Félix Bautista did the rest.

Hays raised his average to .322 and ranks third in the American League in that department, but he was eager to share the credit for the way the Orioles have grinded out victories this month.

“I think it just shows how tough our bullpen is,’’ Hays said. “We haven’t been blowing teams out. We’re having to use our guys in the ‘pen, so I think it shows how mentally and physically strong they are to be able to come in night in and night out to be able to come in and pick us up until we can get things going and have some bigger games and give some guys some rest.”

Bradish was coming off a difficult outing against the Yankees on Tuesday night but was solid in his other four outings this month, giving up just five earned runs in 23 2/3 innings. His 2-1 record does not reflect the fact that the Orioles are 6-3 in his nine starts this season.

He said after the game that the Orioles made a statement with the way they played during that grueling stretch of games against nothing but playoff contenders.

“It was definitely a tough stretch … a lot of good teams,” Bradish said. “Moving forward, I think everybody knows that we’re legit this year that last year wasn’t a fluke. We’ve got really good pitchers, really good hitters, so tough month, but being able to win it, that’s huge.”

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