The Orioles go into their four-game series at Yankee Stadium thinking they can help their remote playoff changes with a strong showing against the division-rival Yankees in The Bronx.
But the Orioles could also leave New York Sunday evening being all but mathematically eliminated from the postseason race.
They are 4 ½ games back of the second AL wild card spot with 16 games remaining in the regular season, unable to gain ground with their 2-1 win over Toronto on Wednesday night.
FanGraphs gives the Orioles a 1.3 percent chance of earning a wild-card spot. MLB.com gives them a 1.1 percent chance. The political and sports analytics site FiveThirtyEight.com is a little more friendly, giving the Orioles a 2 percent chance of making the playoffs.
The Orioles' will go into the series having broken their six-game losing streak, but that streak likely has decided their season's fate. Before the streak, they sat 1½ games out of the second wild-card spot with 23 games left to play, a legitimate shot at making a September run at the postseason.
But they averaged just 1.67 runs a game over their losing streak, and even though they ran into a record-setting Cleveland team in the middle of it, the Indians only made the Orioles' offensive weaknesses more glaring.
Now they go to New York, where they've lost five of six games this season, many of them in ugly fashion. When the Orioles were swept out of Yankee Stadium in June – outscored by a 38-8 margin – the gap between contender and pretender became pretty obvious, at least at that point in the season.
The Orioles have allowed double-digit runs in four of their six games at Yankee Stadium – they were outscored 30-20 there during a three-game series in April, losing two of three – and own a 10.83 ERA in The Bronx.
Yankees hitters are batting .357/.450/.722 against Orioles pitching at Yankee Stadium, and the 22 homers the Orioles have allowed in The Bronx are 13 more than they've yielded in any other ballpark, and those came in just six games.
But the team's recent skid can't be pinned on pitching. Orioles starters allowed just five runs over 18 innings in Toronto, recording a 2.50 ERA and getting back-to-back quality starts from Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.
Rather quietly, left-hander Wade Miley's been pitching effectively – which makes his $12 million club option for next season more of a consideration, especially given the lack of left-handed starter depth throughout MLB – even though he's struggled to get deep into games. Miley – who starts Thursday's series opener -- owns a 3.25 ERA over his last eight starts and opponents are hitting just .233 against him over that span, though he's gone more than six innings just once over that stretch.
Right-hander Gabriel Ynoa, who will receive a second start after making a spot start Saturday, is a relative unknown against the Yankees. The unfamiliarity could help him on Friday. Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson has a 6.54 ERA in eight starts since joining the team in a non-waiver deadline deal, and his Sept. 5 start against the Yankees at Camden Yards was his shortest as an Orioles at 2 1/3 innings.
Buck Showalter still hasn't decided on his Sunday starter, but neither of his top two options – Ubaldo Jimenez or Chris Tillman – have had success against the Yankees this season.
But again, the Orioles' problem recently hasn't been the pitching. The team's offense is in an incredible rut. They've scored more than two runs just once over the past week, and Wednesday's game – when the Orioles had bases loaded with no outs in the fourth inning and couldn't score – was a prime example of the offense's inability to execute.
The Orioles go to New York without the odds in their favor, a sub-.500 record and time dwindling. There's little time left for this team to show some late life.