BOSTON -- The Orioles head to Tampa Bay for a four-game series against the Rays with their season on the line.
The Rays are tied with the Rangers for the two AL wild-card spots. If the Orioles leave Tropicana Field on Monday night having won three of four games, the Orioles and Rays will have identical 84-72 records.
Obviously, that doesn't take into consideration what the Rangers, who play three games in Kansas City this weekend, do. It also doesn't account for the Cleveland's three games against Houston this weekend.
But if the Orioles truly have a shot at the wild card, they need to win three of four. That would put them in a favorable position heading home for the final six games of the season. Their remaining opponent winning percentage is the highest (.537) of the six wild-card contenders, but it's slightly skewed because of Boston's .604 percentage despite the Orioles' 9-7 record against the Sox.
Plus, Boston can clinch the AL East with a win on Monday. It still has home-field advantage to play for, but by the time the Red Sox arrive in Baltimore next weekend, they could have clinched that, too. So expect the Red Sox to give give some of their players a break if they have nothing to play for.
Regardless, the Orioles must play well in Tampa Bay for any of that to matter.
Here's how the wild-card race breaks down over the final 10 days of the regular season.
Wild card leaders
Tampa Bay (83-69) – 10 games left: 4 vs. Orioles, 3 at Yankees, 3 at Blue Jays (.506 opponent winning percentage)
Texas (83-69) – 10 games left: 3 at Royals, 3 vs. Astros, 4 vs. Angels (.449 OW%)
Teams in the hunt
Cleveland (83-70, ½ game back) – 9 games left: 3 vs. Astros, 2 vs. White Sox, 4 at Twins (.386 OW%)
Baltimore (81-71, 2 GB) – 10 games left: 4 at Tampa Bay, 3 vs. Blue Jays, 3 vs Red Sox (.537 OW%)
Kansas City (80-72, 3 GB) – 10 games left: 3 vs. Rangers, 3 at Mariners, 4 at White Sox (.460 OW%)
New York (80-73, 3½ GB) – 9 games left: 3 vs. Giants, 3 vs. Tampa Bay, 3 at Houston (.448 OW%)
The Orioles haven't scored more than five runs in any of their past 16 games, and they've scored three or fewer runs in four of their past five.
But that's the trend this time of year. Pitching seems to prevail over hitting. Runs are at a premium, and a team's ability to manufacture them is valuable. Meanwhile, the Orioles' starting rotation has a lot of question marks with manager Buck Showalter trying to shuffle spots because of recent injuries.
The Orioles realize that the strides they made here in Boston mean nothing once they arrive at Tropicana Field this afternoon.
"It's why we do all those things in the off-season, spring training, the things that the players do to have an opportunity to play meaningful games at the end of the year," Showalter said. "Our guys are looking forward to the opportunity that they have earned."
The mood in the Orioles clubhouse after their 3-1 loss Thursday was one of disappointment with a tinge of anger. They managed just two hits off John Lackey and failed to build on a three-game winning streak.
Lackey was frustrating for the Orioles. He threw 25 of 31 first-pitch strikes, so he didn't give the Orioles much rope. And for those who harp on their recent free swinging, the Orioles hit into just three first-pitch outs on the night.
One of toughest challenges of the year might be not letting that linger, especially when they're staring down David Price tonight, then Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson and Chris Archer the next three afternoons.
“At this point, you need W’s -- lots of them," second baseman Brian Roberts said. "Winning two is better than losing two, but it’s certainly not about winning series. It’s about winning as many games as possible in the last, what do we have, 10 left? Go out and try and win 10 and see what happens.”