By Christian S. Kohl
Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Pittsburgh Pirates are enjoying quality seasons midway through this year. With each team presenting a legitimate threat to make the playoffs in their respective leagues, the question is, which is most likely to achieve that goal?
Consistency is the big question with Baltimore this season. Chris Davis has effectively put the team on his back so far, with an eye-popping 37 HR and 97 RBI. Nearly half a season remains, and Davis has already produced an outstanding season's worth of numbers. However, it remains completely uncertain whether or not he can continue to produce at anywhere near that clip. If he falls off, Baltimore may very well simply lack the offensive production to keep pace with the other teams in the AL East.
Jim Johnson presents another question mark of consistency for the O's. While he leads the American League with 35 saves, he also sports 6 blown saves and has worked through true patches of difficulty in this season. He was utterly dominant last season, and he will need to recapture some measure of that consistency down the stretch to launch Baltimore into October.
Currently, the prospects for the often woeful Pirates seem brighter than the hopes of Baltimore. The pitching of Jeff Locke, in addition to the resurgence of Francisco Liriano, offer big starting options in their rotation. If Jason Grilli is able to produce at his current rate, the lone blown save bodes very well moving forward for Pittsburgh in key games. For the more new age stat fans, the performance of Andrew McCutchen and his league leading WAR also provides ample evidence to the emerging elite talent on the Pirates squad.
Still, the most compelling factor in determining who has the edge in this contest may well be an intangible one. The youth of the Orioles and the experience of Showalter last year ignited them in a unique fashion which may not be able to be duplicated this year. Conversely, that optimism and energy seems vibrant and alive in Pittsburgh, after decades of hopeless, floundering futility. The feeling is they may have pieced together a winner this year, and their team is playing with a fervor that may well be enough to carry them into postseason play.
Moreover, the division is tougher to wade through in the AL East. The Yankees, Sox and Rays all pose legitimate threats, as do the Jays if they can ever get healthy and straighten themselves out. In the NL Central, the Cubs and Brewers pose absolutely no threat whatsoever, leaving St. Louis as the primary divisional competition. A thinner division, plain and simply, translates to better chances and higher hopes. The Pirates trail St. Louis currently, but they are also currently the only NL team featuring 60 wins.
The O's are explosive and talented, but the edge in this particular race goes to the Pirates. They are long overdue and are playing like they know it. Davis may need to hit 60 or more to keep Baltimore in it, but Pitt just needs to keep on rolling.
Christian S. Kohl is a sports contributor for CBS Local Digital Media.
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