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Orioles Analysis: O's soon entering crucial stretch

Buck Showalter's Baltimore Orioles are known to take the long, 162-game baseball season one game at a time.

Showalter never looks too far ahead, never stresses the importance of one game over another, and never deems one specific series a crucial one.

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But when the Orioles return from this current eight-game road trip out west, they won't have many more games against lower-tier opponents. And they'll have plenty against their divisional rivals.

The Orioles return home Friday for a nine-game homestand, and will have just 42 games remaining. Of those 42, 29 are against AL East teams.

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Baltimore plays just seven non-divisional games in September, and finish the season with 20 straight divisional games.

In addition to all those games against their AL East foes, they have series against the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians, two teams that will also be vying for one of the two wild cards.

The Orioles still have nine games against the Red Sox, seven against the Yankees, six against the Rays, and six against the Blue Jays.

"These games are important," Baltimore closer Jim Johnson said recently. "It's a full game jump in the standings no matter what happens. So we know what we have to do."

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And that is win, if the Orioles hope to capture their first division crown since 1997 or make the playoffs for as second straight season.

So far this season, Baltimore has a winning record against AL East teams, but barely, sitting at 24-23.

But the Orioles do have winning records against the first-place Red Sox (6-4) and the Yankees (7-5). However, they have struggled more against the second-place Rays (5-7) and Blue Jays (6-7).

Of those last 29 divisional games, Baltimore plays 13 of them at home. And the Orioles hope that home-field advantage will play a big role, much like it did last September in their push for the playoffs.

"We've got better baseball ahead of us, but at the same time I think we're not worried about it," Baltimore starter Chris Tillman said. "We're not stressed in this clubhouse. We're going to keep grinding away and getting after it."

That's how the Orioles made the playoffs a season ago, too. Baltimore entered August 9 last year at 60-51. This year, it was at 63-51.

Although, the Orioles may need to go on another great stretch to finish the season to make the playoffs, much like they did last year.

Baltimore was 38-20 in August, September, and October last year. And of their last 31 games, 25 were against AL East teams.

The AL East is one of the closest divisions in baseball, having four teams with winning records entering the weekend and the last-place Blue Jays had a better record than any other last-place team in baseball.

And it should figure to get even closer as the five teams battle it out over the last few months for not just the division, but also possibly the two wild cards.

But it's just what the Orioles expected, and they know that these games are important, but they'll continue to stick by Showalter's day-by-day strategy.

"With the talent that's in this division every year, every single team. We knew that it was going to be close all the way through," Baltimore reliever Brian Matusz said. "We've just got to take it one game at a time."

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