SEATTLE — Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette never revealed his specific expectations for the season when it began in April.
But now his immediate goal is clear. And it’s not winning an American League wild-card spot.
“We’re in a position now that we have the kind of ballclub that we could win the division,” Duquette said Tuesday. “We have an opportunity to win the division, that’s like advancing a round in the playoffs.”
Heading into Tuesday night’s game in Seattle, the Orioles held the second AL wild-card post but were also just a half-game behind the New York Yankees in the AL East race.
Taking over a team that was 69-93 last year and hadn’t had a winning season since 1997, a .500 finish and meaningful September games would have probably been enough for Duquette and his staff when the season started.
But that equation has changed now — especially with a club built on depth thanks to a dizzying number of personnel moves. The Orioles have used 50 big leaguers and 75 Triple-A players this season.
“I knew we were going to be a lot more competitive because we had much better pitching depth,” Duquette said. “And, I said this a lot, we have a group of core players that are pretty good. And all have hit over 20 home runs.”
There may be some more roster moves on the horizon after the club leaves Seattle, Duquette admitted. But he said he is content right now with veteran Endy Chavez filling in for the injured Nick Markakis in right field — especially if designated hitter Jim Thome returns from the disabled list Friday as expected. That would allow Chris Davis, the current primary DH, to play more right as well.
“Endy Chavez has done a good job, he helped us win a ballgame in Oakland,” Duquette said. “And we’re trying to get into position where Jim Thome can come up and help the ballclub, too.”
If the Orioles added someone from outside the organization now, that player would not be eligible for the postseason roster. More likely, the Orioles will summon another player or two from within the organization to provide depth.
First baseman Joe Mahoney and outfielder Bill Hall, both of whom finished the season at Triple-A Norfolk, were sent to the instructional league in Sarasota, Fla., Tuesday to get ready for a potential call-up. They’ll join reserve catcher Ronny Paulino there.
The Orioles may soon have need for reinforcements. Starting catcher Matt Wieters’ wife, Maria, is due with the couple’s first child this month. Adding another catcher would allow manager Buck Showalter to be able to pinch-hit or pinch-run for reserve backstops Taylor Teagarden and Luis Exposito while Wieters is away from the team.
In addition, first baseman Mark Reynolds is playing through a left biceps injury and the club doesn’t want to be left short-handed if he can’t play.
Mahoney is already on the 40-man roster, but room would have to be made for Paulino and Hall.
Duquette, however, is no stranger to juggling his roster. And, right now, he’s just enjoying the way his team is playing as the end of the season nears.
“That’s what all executives get up for in the morning, right? To be in a pennant race,” Duquette said. “It’s a fun time of year when you are chasing the pennant. Fun for everybody.”
Around the horn
The Orioles are celebrating minor-league appreciation night Tuesday at Camden Yards with involvement from its affiliates. Discounted tickets to the game are available by contacting the club’s affiliates. The Orioles will announce their scouting and development award winners on that day. Leading candidates include pitcher Dylan Bundy for the Jim Palmer Prize and outfielder L.J. Hoes for the Award (position players). … Miguel Gonzalez will pitch Friday’s opener in Boston and Chris Tillman will start either Saturday or Sunday. Showalter is likely deciding among several candidates — including Randy Wolf, Steve Johnson and Jake Arrieta — for the other start this weekend. … On Sunday and on Monday, the Orioles had seven different hitters drive in runs, the first time they’ve done that in consecutive games since April 2006. They’ve never done it in three straight games. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s been done four other times this season in the major leagues.