Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The year may be 2012 but it sure feels like 1997 in Baltimore right now.
If you were at home Thursday night watching the Democratic National Convention or the Video Music Awards, you really missed out. The real show Thursday night was at Camden Yards.
Staked to a 5-run lead, the surprising Baltimore Orioles were six outs away from reaching their own personal Mount Everest: the top of the American League East Division. It's a mountain this team has been climbing for 15 years, ever since falling to the Cleveland Indians in the 1997 American League Championship series.
With Baltimore's ace Jason Hammel chased from the game, New York rattled off hit after hit, eventually knotting the score at six runs a piece.
Blowing a lead like that against the Yankees would have deflated most squads, but not this resilient bunch. Adam Jones gamely stepped in against David Robertson in the bottom half of the eighth and quickly pounced on a 1-2 fastball. It landed 422 feet away from home plate for a solo homer.
Jones may have breathed life back into the stunned crowd of 46,000 but it was Mark Reynolds who brought the house down. He delivered the hammer just two batters later with a 2-run homer to left, putting Baltimore on top 9-6.
And just like that, the Orioles were back in first place, a place fans of the cartoon bird could only dream about five months earlier.
First place is finally a reality for the O's and they have Mr. Reynolds to thank for it. It wasn't just his two home runs Thursday night. Or the missile Reynolds launched on Wednesday against Toronto. Or even the two balls he smacked into orbit at Yankee Stadium last Sunday.
Reynolds has been impossibly hot for a month now and so have the Orioles. That's no coincidence.
Let's flash back to August 6. The Orioles entered their game against the Tampa Bay Rays that night six and a half back of New York and Reynolds was in the midst of an ugly 0-for-11 slump. Reynolds was hitting out of the eighth spot in the order and even that seemed a bit high given his pitiful .203 batting average coupled with an embarrassingly low .358 slugging percentage.
Just like in the movie "Goodfellas," these were the bad times.
But instead of locking someone in a meat freezer or whacking a made man, Reynolds just started doing what he does best: swinging for the fences.
Yes, Reynolds has whiffed on 27 occasions in 90 at bats since that day in early August. But he has also connected on 12 homers and 17 extra base hits.
The 29-year-old has been particularly prolific over his last seven contests, having clobbered eight homers in that span with 16 runs driven in. Only Josh Hamilton has been more dominant over any 7-game stretch this season (nine homers in seven contests from May 7 to May 13).
On August 6, Reynolds' OPS was .681. Today it rests at a much more respectable .819. His batting average (.203 to .235) and slugging percentage (.358 to .465) have also improved considerably over the past month.
This second-half power surge is a little unusual for Reynolds, who has historically been a fast starter and a slow finisher (96 HR/271 RBI/.488 SLUG/.826 OPS in the first half compared to 82 HR/219 RBI/.473 SLUG/.802 OPS in 1,323 second half at bats).
Reynolds certainly isn't delving into uncharted waters with this hot streak. Every year Reynolds seems to catch fire at some point.
Last year between June 26 and July 4, Reynolds bashed seven long balls in eight games and the season before that he crushed five homers between August 26 and August 31. Reynolds also produced 11 round-trippers during a 13-game home run binge in the summer of 2009, arguably his finest stretch in his six seasons in the big leagues.
As impressive as all of that may sound, Reynolds is far from a sure thing. He's been equally prone to cold streaks throughout his career including an 0- for-17 slump in mid-April and later an 0-for-20 slide from June 24 to July 3.
Reynolds' potential to go on a home run tear makes him worth holding onto in fantasy, but the unbearable cold-streaks he is also known for make him difficult to start on a daily basis.
Luckily, I've figured Reynolds out ... kind of. Though his overall batting average for his career is slightly better against lefthanded pitching (.242 versus .236), this season Reynolds has demonstrated far more power against righties.
Eighteen of the 20 home run balls he has tallied in 2012 have come versus righthanders and his slugging percentage is almost 100 points higher against righties (.494 SLUG vs. RHP, .383 SLUG vs. LHP).
Assuming this trend continues, you can feel free to sit Reynolds whenever the Orioles face a lefthanded starter, if manager Buck Showalter hasn't omitted him from the lineup already.
Reynolds has the potential to drain your team's batting average with his penchant for strikeouts (he does, afterall, hold the major league record for the most whiffs in a season with 223), but he can also lift your team in home runs and RBI. His eligibility at both corner infield positions (though Reynolds is actually one of the poorest fielders in the major leagues) is also a nice luxury.
Reynolds isn't for everyone, but this is definitely the point in the fantasy season where it's time to start taking chances. Reynolds could go 0-for-30 starting tonight and it wouldn't surprise me. Or he could carry you all the way to first place, just like he's done with the Orioles.
With three weeks left in the season, what do you have to lose?