Nick Turchiaro, USA Today Sports
For baseball fans, there's only a little more than five weeks left in the regular season. For manager Buck Showalter and his players, there's still a little more than five weeks left in the regular season. While the Orioles started preparing for the postseason this week by sending out playoff ticket invoices to season-ticket holders, Showalter refuses to entertain such notions. When asked a question earlier this week that included the word "playoffs," Showalter's eyes bulged momentarily until he realized it was a query about the minor league system. Orioles players also see the club's likely postseason future, but they aren't looking too far ahead with 37 games remaining in the regular season. "Of course, everyone on this team wants to play in the playoffs," said left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, through interpreter Louis Chao, after Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox. "But right now it's still the regular season, so we just try to do our jobs and win every game." The Orioles (73-52) enter Friday with a season-high nine-game lead over the New York Yankees (64-61) and the Toronto Blue Jays (65-62) in the American League East. Barring a massive collapse, the club likely will advance to the postseason for the second time in three years. The bottom line is that Showalter is focused on the rest of this season and trying to win each and every game to get the Orioles to the playoffs. He'll start fixating on the postseason when it's a certainty that his club is getting there. Thankfully, we're not limited by such constraints. With a healthy lead in the AL East and two wild-card spots available, the Orioles are probably as good of a bet to play in October as any team in baseball. And what happens between now and then will give us a sense of just how competitive the Orioles can be when baseball's second season begins after Sept. 29. Here are the five people or situations that need to be monitored the closest over the next few weeks.
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Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun
Simply put, Machado makes this team better when he is healthy and playing every day. He's the club's best defender, a true difference-maker who saves potential runs nearly every game that he is on the field. And in the postseason, when runs will be at a premium, stellar defense can shift the momentum of a short series. Machado also strengthens the club's starting lineup. Sandwiched between Nick Markakis and Adam Jones, he gives the Orioles a tough cadre of hitters to lead off a game. He also is a big offensive upgrade over Ryan Flaherty or any other player who would replace him in the lineup. But the catch here is that Machado needs to be healthy -- which means the next few weeks are exceptionally critical as he battles back from a sprained right knee ligament that he sustained Aug. 11. Showalter hopes that Machado will be able to go on an injury rehabilitation assignment at some point next week. That would give him three weeks or so with the major league club before the postseason begins. And, frankly, that time may be needed. It took Machado a while to trust his surgically repaired left knee this season, especially defensively. He was tentative for a couple weeks before looking like the AL Platinum Glove winner everyone expects. So it likely would be beneficial for Machado to play a chunk of games at the major league level before the playoffs. But the Orioles have been coy with the specifics of Machado's injury, never revealing the grade of his knee sprain or the ligament affected. There has been no true projected recovery time for the injury. And that's likely by design, because bringing up timetables publicly can interfere with the recovery process, especially if it staggers like Machado's rehab from his left knee surgery in the offseason. Earlier this week, Machado said he hadn't seen any significant progress in the knee despite daily treatment and strengthening exercises, but he hoped it would come soon.
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The Orioles hold a nine-game lead in the American League East with 37 games remaining in the regular season, but what do they need to do with a little more than five weeks to go before the start of the playoffs?