Britton's slider leads Orioles into first place

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Zach Britton has won four straight starts for the Orioles.The Baltimore Orioles are partying like its 1997.

For the first time since 1997, when Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro and Roberto Alomar were in Baltimore, the Orioles are in first place this late in the season. Since then, they have not even been within 16 games of first place on September 4.

Orioles Games Back in Division on Sept. 4
Since 1998

Each of the last three seasons, they were 30 or more games out of first place on September 4.

How did they do it?

On July 28, the New York Yankees were in first place with an 8.5-game lead over the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.

But since then, the Orioles are 24-10, the best record in the majors over that span.

That includes a 12-0 win at the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday, their largest road shutout over the Blue Jays in franchise history.

The 12 runs match the most the Orioles have scored this season (they also scored 12 against the Pirates on June 14). They’re now 18-2 this season when scoring at least eight runs.

The star of the night was Zach Britton, who threw seven shutout innings for the second time in four starts. Britton is 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA in his last four starts, allowing just three runs and five extra-base hits with more than a strikeout per inning during that span.

How did Britton take care of business against the Blue Jays?

• Once again, Britton's slider was unhittable. Blue Jays hitters were 0-for-7 with three strikeouts in at-bats ending with his slider. Opponents are 0-for-20 with 13 strikeouts against Britton's slider over his last four starts.

• Britton used his slider as a put-away pitch. Six of his seven outs with his slider came with two strikes. Three of those outs came on sliders in the zone and three came out of the zone.

• Britton worked his fastballs (2/4-seam) down in the zone. He threw 60 percent of his fastballs down in the zone, his second highest percentage in his career. Nine of the 13 balls in play against his fastballs were grounders.

Britton isn’t the only Oriole pitching well. Orioles pitchers have allowed three or fewer earned runs in six straight and nine of their last 10 games.

On Wednesday, the Orioles will try to sweep a three-game series without allowing a run for the first time since 1995, when they swept the Tigers in three games, giving Baltimore five straight shutouts to end the regular season.

But Wednesday could be a first if they can obtain a third straight shutout. The Orioles have never swept a road series of at least three games without allowing a single run in franchise history.