If the Orioles think they're going to get any outside help in their quest to hold onto a wild-card playoff berth, they've got another thing coming.
If the Orioles think they're going to get any outside help in their quest to hold onto a wild-card playoff berth, they've got another think coming.
They're trying to both overtake the Toronto Blue Jays and hold off the Detroit Tigers, who entered Wednesday just one game out of the second wild-card and appear to have an amazingly smooth path to the postseason.
There are a couple of other teams still in play – the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros – but the Tigers clearly are the most existential threat to the Orioles' playoff possibilities, and right now look like they were born to be wild.
If the Tigers had done a better job of competing in the American League Central, their current series against the newly crowned division champion Cleveland Indians would be one of the marquee matchups of the regular season's final week. Instead, it now means relatively little to the Indians, who clinched the division title Monday, and apparently aren't in a position to make things tough on the Tigers for the rest of the series.
Manager Terry Francona can't be blamed for trying to conserve his banged-up starting rotation for the start of the team's Division Series next week, but the Orioles could not be faulted for wondering how the integrity of the playoff race was served by the Indians turning the remaining two games of the series with the Tigers over to their bullpen.
If the Indians had stayed on turn for Wednesday night's game, 12-game-winner Trevor Bauer would have taken the mound in the second game against Detroit. That assignment went instead to right-hander Zach McAllister, who has made just two starts over the past two seasons. Thursday afternoon, the Indians will start left-hander Ryan Merritt, who has pitched a grand total of six innings in the major leagues this year.
It's not like the Indians have nothing to play for. They still have a chance to finish with the best record in the American League, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the postseason, but that apparently is enough of a long shot that Francona is going to concentrate on being as healthy and rested as possible.
The Texas Rangers hold a two-game advantage over the Indians, and play the rest of their games against the fifth-place Brewers and the last-place Tampa Bay Rays. The Indians might still get a fight from the Royals this weekend.
To be fair, Francona doesn't have a lot of choices after losing Corey Kluber to a quadriceps injury. The decision on Bauer came down to resting him now and pitching him Saturday to line him up for next Thursday's ALDS opener or pitching him against the Tigers and having him open the playoffs after more than a week of inactivity. He made the right choice for his team and it probably isn't going to break his heart if the Tigers overtake the Orioles.
The Indians have absolutely dominated the Tigers this year. They improved to 14-2 against Detroit with their division-clinching victory on Monday and could be forgiven for getting blown out, 12-0, on the evening after their late-night celebration.
The Orioles, meanwhile, pretty much had their way with the Indians during the regular season series, winning five of the six games.
The final weekend of the regular season also appears to heavily favor the Tigers, who complete this year's strange interleague schedule with a three-game series on the road against the Atlanta Braves – the team with the worst record in the National League. And, if things get dicey at the end, they have Justin Verlander lined up to pitch Sunday.
What this means for the Orioles is that they might have to win all of their remaining games in Toronto and New York to hold onto one of the wild-card berths…unless they get a big helping hand from the Red Sox, who will go head-to-head with the Blue Jays at Fenway Park this weekend.
The planets don't appear to be aligned for the Orioles, but – at least for the moment – they still control their own destiny.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and follow him @Schmuckstop on Twitter.