Bird Watching

Bird binge: Plenty of Jays-Orioles games to come

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BALTIMORE – They’re birds of a feather, but they don’t flock together.

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In fact, they become aggressively territorial. Get ready for a lot of chirping in the American League wildcard cage between the Blue Jays and Orioles. The two teams began a 15-game summer showdown here on Monday, which will be played on the last 54 dates on the schedule.

They were among the two hottest AL teams since the All-Star break, each with 10-6 records. And the two entered this series in a fighting mood, with Toronto splitting a series with Minnesota, the upstart O’s wrapping their own against the Pirates, each team’s game on Sunday ending with a hit in controversial home plate tags which have been overturned.

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“The more you see (the same) people, the more familiar — and more competitive — it becomes,” Toronto manager John Schneider said. “The execution will be great. When you have a team that you know well and you play them pretty well, the game plan is the game plan.

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“You make adjustments here and there, but the execution will be important.”

The Orioles had been off the radar for the past two years, but the surge that began around the July 4 holiday propelled them into the playoff picture. They trail the Jays by a few games, but are within reach of Seattle and Tampa Bay, with the same 56-52 record as Cleveland coming into play Monday.

“The schedule manager is overdoing it,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said of his team’s glut of games against Toronto. “They’re pretty balanced in that they’ve got a bit of power, speed, superstars in the middle… they’re a very, very good team.

“We have to pitch very carefully (which) I thought we did very well in the first series in Toronto (win two of three, loss in extra innings).”

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The O’s drew 40,000 in one game in the Pittsburgh series, during which Hyde proudly pointed out that spectators came out to loudly cheer for his team instead of a famous opponent.

“Any time you play against teams ahead of you, they matter,” Hyde added. “It’s not to take anything away (from the other teams). But we start to get there in mid-August and we’re there. We just want to play well across the board, no matter who we’re up against.

“The ranking is important, but at the same time you don’t want to put pressure on yourself anymore, you want to stay loose. I think we have done so so far.

This is the Jays’ first look at Camden Yards since the left field wall was pushed back 26.5 feet and raised six feet. The 398 foot distance marker is imposing.

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“It’s different,” agreed Schneider. “It’s gone from kind of a bandbox to one where you have to (log in) to stream it. It looks far away. A home run will still be a home run, but some home runs will now be fly balls.

“You have to understand. It won’t be the Camden we’re used to.

The two managers strategized ahead of Monday’s game. With southpaw Yusei Kikuchi starting for Toronto, Hyde stacked the right-handed hitters, also knowing Tim Mayza’s injury on Saturday leaves Schneider without a southpaw in his bullpen.

Schneider had the all-around lead hitter in Whit Merrifield, after dropping him late in Minnesota’s series to give the bottom of the order some pop.

“In the short time he has been here, you can see how valuable Whit is, being able to bounce him from outfield to infield, pinch-kick, pinch-run. Yesterday’s (winning race) was obviously huge.

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Hyde was still awaiting an explanation as to why a tagout by his catcher, Robinson Chirinos, was overruled by the replay when he stopped Pittsburgh’s Greg Allen at home plate on Sunday, similar to what happened between catcher of the Twins Gary Sanchez and racer Merrifield at a time zone. . Hyde didn’t believe Chirinos blocked the runner’s path and was sent off, although Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli’s rant was much more colorful.

“Every game is important and when you come into August everything seems to matter a little more,” Schneider said. “A little ironic these kind of plays happen (on the same day) but it’s fun.”

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FIGHTIN’ FIFTEEN

A combination of the schedule manager’s whims and an opening week streak displaced by the labor dispute resulted in 15 season-ending games between the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles:

August 8-10 in Baltimore
August 15-17 in Toronto
September 5-7 in Baltimore
September 16-18 in Toronto
October 3-5 in Baltimore

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