Orioles thoughts and observations on wild-card race, Norris, Tillman and rotation

When discussing the teams competing for the second AL wild-card spot, you can say they all deserve each other right now.

Of the Rays, Orioles, Yankees and Indians, none of them have been able to pull away from the pack. All four teams are within 3 ½ games of each other for the AL's final postseason berth.


On Monday night, the Rays lost their fifth straight game, an 11-2 defeat in Anaheim. Tampa Bay has now lost eight of nine.

So the Orioles woke up this morning just two games back of the Rays for that second AL wild-card spot while staying ahead of both the Yankees (2 ½ games back of Tampa Bay) and Indians (3 ½ games).

This is just the third day of September, but the regular season's final month has already been a roller coaster. Following the Orioles' loss in New York on Saturday, the clubhouse was eerily silent and full of tension. But after Monday's Labor Day win over the Indians, the Orioles were incredibly loose, cracking jokes and hanging out in the clubhouse watching Roger Federer play in the U.S. Open.

Granted the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland allows for looseness – there are Golden Tee and Big Buck Hunter arcade games in the clubhouse – but the Orioles' playoff hopes have new life after taking a serious hit when they lost four of five to open the road trip.

Even though the Orioles couldn't take advantage of their head-to-head matchups with Boston and New York last week, they still control a lot down the stretch.

They have 26 games remaining. They could dent the Indians' hope in the final two games here in Cleveland. And the Orioles have six games remaining against Boston and four against the Rays and Yankees. They'll also need to take care of business against the Blue Jays (six games) and White Sox (four games) for those other matchups to matter.

The Orioles caught a break in Monday's series opener in Cleveland when Indians ace Justin Masterson was forced from the game in the second inning with a rib-cage injury. The Indians used seven different relievers, mainly playing to matchups inning by inning.

It doesn't matter as much because of expanded rosters, but using that many pitchers out of the bullpen one game would seem to be a factor over the course of the series. We'll see how the Indians adapt.

** Give Bud Norris a lot of credit for Monday's win. In his previous six starts in an Orioles uniform, he's pitched in some tight games. He left three of his past six starts with the score a one-run game. On Monday, he showed what he could do when given a sizable lead early, and his ability to pitch aggressively with the lead was impressive.

** Fifteen-game winner Chris Tillman will start for the Orioles on Tuesday, trying to become the franchise's first 16-game winner since Mike Mussina won 18 in 1999.

Tillman has been spectacular on the road, going 8-1 with a 2.39 ERA and eight quality starts in 12 road starts this season. A win Tuesday would tie him with the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright and the Angels' C.J. Wilson for most road wins in the majors.

The Orioles are 10-2 in road games started by Tillman this season, but he's 2-1 with a 4.79 ERA in four career starts against the Indians and posts an unsightly 7.27 ERA in two career starts at Progressive Field.

** Tillman's spot in the rotation is obviously secure as he's emerged as the Orioles' ace, but manager Buck Showalter said the team could use either Kevin Gausman or Zach Britton as starters down the stretch. Showalter had previously said that callups would work in relief, but with Miguel Gonzalez and Wei-Yin Chen struggling, he's opening the door. Right-hander Jason Hammel will likely rejoin the club over the weekend after making his second minor league rehab start Tuesday night.

"We will take it each day and see how it falls," Showalter said. "It's tough because Miggy's pitched so well for us and had a tough outing. Chen pitched so well for us and had a couple uncharacteristic outings. Both of their inning counts are down and the fastball their carrying is good."

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