TORONTO — Amid the whirlwind of an impending trade deadline, there was still a baseball game to be played.
This time last year, the Orioles opted to subtract from the roster rather than add the kind of support that might’ve prodded Baltimore into the postseason. This year, the Orioles are buyers — although it appears they’re waiting until Tuesday’s deadline to complete a deal, if any are coming.
Between last year’s deadline and this year’s one, the main constant has been winning. And with all those wins, general manager Mike Elias recognizes the Orioles are for real — and a team that has made statement after statement this year could be rewarded by adding additional pieces ahead of the deadline.
With Monday’s 4-2 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, Baltimore made their 65th statement of the season. The Orioles are in first place in the American League, let alone the East. There’s trust in this group. There’s also trust in the next few years. The latter one, especially, makes a trade deadline acquisition more complicated — trading for the now almost always hampers the future.
But before any possible reinforcements arrived in the form of a trade, the performance from the Orioles on Monday was much the same as the one Sunday, when they blew out the New York Yankees.
These games around the trade deadline are always played with an undertone mystery. Who could be going, who might arrive? In continuing their strong season in Monday’s win behind right-hander Kyle Gibson and an early offensive breakthrough, the messaging was clear: This is a team that could go places.
They might need a well-timed trade acquisition to make the journey even longer.
“Are there players who can make our team better? Sure,” Gibson said. “But I think we have a really darn good baseball team, and if we don’t make this massive splash or anything like that, I think this team is really good.”
To seal Monday’s series-opening win, each facet of the team needed to click in unison. There was early run support for Gibson and defensive gems behind him, such as a slick backhand toss from shortstop Jorge Mateo to end the first.
To bookend the night, left fielder Austin Hays completed a game-saving dive in the gap, laying out to prevent what could’ve been two runs from scoring.
“I knew it was far away when I dove,” Hays said, “so I tried to do a little swim move in the air to get an extra couple feet there.”
Gibson’s stellar outing began just under 24 hours from Tuesday’s trade deadline, and while going six innings with just one run against him doesn’t change Baltimore’s calculus, it does give credence to the idea that the Orioles don’t need a total overhaul of their pitching staff.
They optioned right-hander Tyler Wells on Sunday to Double-A Bowie, a move made in the hopes of resetting a starter whose immense first half took a nosedive of late. Wells should return next month, but he, Dean Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez and Kyle Bradish are all nearing or already have surpassed their career high in innings thrown.
Adding another arm to that stable ahead of the trade deadline could give the Orioles more flexibility as they approach October.
With Gibson, however, they already have one arm they can rely upon for deep outings. He’s the veteran of the pitching staff and one of the few players in Baltimore’s clubhouse with postseason experience. That will be key once this team reaches October. It will also be imperative once four other rotation options experience the grind that is pitching every fifth day in the majors for an entire season.
Gibson has already proven himself to be an innings eater. And of late, his results have offered more than just high pitch counts. With four hits against him in six innings, Gibson recorded his fourth quality start in his last five appearances, bucking a string of difficult outings last month.
“I was searching for something I could do different,” Gibson said, noting how he’d make visits to his pitching coaches to seek potential changes. “Leave there thinking, maybe I should just keep doing what I’m doing. It’s tough to be self-critical in those times you’re struggling, but I think the answer for me was to just keep executing pitches.”
He immediately worked with a lead, too, when noted Blue Jays menace Ryan Mountcastle doubled in two runs against Chris Bassitt in the first inning. Mountcastle finished with three RBIs and two extra-base hits. Gunnar Henderson also clubbed a line-drive home run to right field for his 17th long ball of his rookie season.
Those offensive contributions covered for Gibson, who received an assist from left-hander Danny Coulombe in the seventh. Coulombe inherited a baserunner and walked the first batter he faced. Then the southpaw forced a popup and two strikeouts to end the frame.
Whit Merrifield’s homer off right-hander Yennier Cano called right-hander Félix Bautista in for a five-out save. To do so, Hays needed to complete a full-extension grab to rob Merrifield of a run-scoring hit. Henderson tipped his cap Hays’ way, and the middle infield duo of Jorge Mateo and Adam Frazier applauded.
For the third straight inning, the Blue Jays threatened. But Bautista recorded his 29th save of the season, ensuring this young team had won again. They’ve made a habit of that.
“Being in first place in your division on the last day of the trade deadline is right where you want to be,” Hays said.
And unlike so many earlier years Hays experienced in Baltimore, that’s exactly where the Orioles are this time around.