The Baltimore Orioles won another game and (potentially) lost another key player – this time, newly returned from the DL starter Jason Hammel. This is starting to become a bit too par for the course these days. The injury part, that is. I am fine with the winning part. I am still holding out hope that Hammel’s MRI comes back today with positive news. The knee is a tricky joint – it is often difficult to locate the source of a pain in the knee. There is a chance that just maybe, the pain Hammel felt last night was related to scar tissue or something else minor. Or maybe the doctors did fail to fix Hammel’s knee issues when they operated on him two months ago. We just have to wait and see and hope for the best. In the meantime, let’s move onto some positive news because there is plenty of that.
With the O’s 9-2 victory over the Rays last night, the team moves to 17 games over .500 (79-62) for the 4th time in 11 days. Each time the O’s have reached that mark, it has put them into a tie with the stagnant New York Yankees for first place in the AL East. Unfortunately, both the 17 games over mark and the tie for first place in the AL East have been short-lived the previous three times . The Orioles are hoping to make both last a little longer this time and maybe even get rid of that pesky “tie” word by taking over sole possession of first place. The Orioles’ goal still is and should be to finish 1st in the AL East. Doing so would allow them to skip the one-game wild card round and most likely face the winner of the AL Central in the division series (either the White Sox or Tigers). Either of those teams would be a welcome sight over the Texas Rangers, who are well on their way to securing the top AL seed in the playoffs.
Away from Camden Yards, things also went well for the O’s last night. The Yankees lost to the Red Sox, allowing the O’s to move into a first place tie. On the west coast, Oakland held off the Angels 6-5. At this stage, it is in the Orioles’ best interest to see a couple of wild card contenders fall to the wayside. The Angels’ recent surge left them just one game behind the Orioles in the wild card standings on Sunday. They have dropped the first two games of a four-game series to Oakland the past two nights and now sit 2.5 games back of the Orioles and the second wild card spot. A sweep of the Angels by the A’s would be a welcomed occurrence as it would leave the Angels at least 2.5 games back of the Orioles. As for the A’s, the Orioles will get their chance to gain ground on them directly this weekend and all the A’s losing to the Angels would do at this point is jumble up the top of the wild card standings even more. For now, it is best to root for Oakland and hope that they can start the Angels out on their slide down the wild card standings.
The O’s win over Tampa coupled with the Tigers loss on Monday night has left the Orioles in perhaps the most comfortable playoff position they have been in this season. If the season ended today, the Orioles would be assured a playoff spot as the AL East champion or wild card winner. Not only that, but they have a two-game cushion over their nearest competitor in both of those races – the Rays. Throw on a 2.5 game lead over the Angels and a 5 game lead over the Tigers and at least momentarily, the O’s have a little breathing room. It might not last. It might also be the start of teams starting to separate themselves – either positively or negatively – from the crowded pool of contenders.
With 21 games left, everything is still far from certain. I wrote on Monday that if the Orioles go 12-10 over the final 22 games, they will finish with 90 wins and a good shot at making the playoffs. Anything more than twelve wins is a positive, anything less is a serious detriment. Last night the O’s notched the first win in what will hopefully be a string of 12 or more over the final three and a half weeks of the season. It’s a good first step. Now hopefully the team can avoid any more serious injuries and keep knocking off those victories