Monday morning Orioles off-day thoughts and observations

TORONTO – Here comes the difficult part.

The Orioles woke up in Boston this morning 2 ½ games out of both wild-card spots with 13 games left in season. The six teams contending for the two spots are now separated by 3 ½ games.

The Orioless are in the middle of the pack in the race, but on paper they face the toughest climb. Their opponents in the remaining games have a combined .555 winning percentage, which is the highest among the wild-card contenders.

A big part of that sample size is the Red Sox, who have 92 wins and a .609 winning percentage. Boston is playing like world beaters right now. With a win Tuesday, the Red Sox can officially eliminate the Orioles from the division race. That’s fine, because the Orioles have essentially been playing for the wild card for a few weeks now.

The Red Sox could actually clinch the division this week against the Orioles. Their magic number is four, so any combination of four Boston wins and Tampa Bay losses give the Red Sox the AL East.

The good thing for the Orioles is that they’ve actually played the Red Sox well, even despite losing two of three at Fenway Park in late August.

Keep an eye on the Indians, who have won nine of 12, a streak that started with two wins over the Orioles in Cleveland. They’re only a half-game back of the wild-card spots.

The reports on right-hander Miguel Gonzalez are mixed. Gonzalez said he doesn’t think he will miss a start, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter said his next start is in jeopardy.

The good thing is that if Bud Norris comes through his bullpen session Tuesday, he could start Friday, which would allow Gonzalez and extra day of rest.

Gonzalez was obviously frustrated after the game, but he knew he had to pull himself from Sunday’s game. He felt the tweak in his groin about three pitches before his exit, and it worsened in that short time, so he didn’t want to risk it getting worse.

Gonzalez will fight through it if can. In September, everybody has some kind of physical ailment. Norris plans to pitch despite still feeling some stiffness. Nate McLouth promised he’d be able to play with a sore right knee after taking a 94 mph fastball to the outside part of it. If Darren O’Day returns to the bullpen soon, he probably won’t be at 100 percent.

While we’re talking about the bullpen, Tommy Hunter has pitched a lot, pretty much every other day since Sept. 1 and his past two outings have been more than one inning.

He’s been efficient with his pitches. He struck out Toronto pinch hitter Munenori Kawasaki on four pitches to strand the bases loaded and then retired the side in the eighth.

And Monday’s off day will allow Hunter to be available for Tuesday’s series opener in Boston, which is a good thing. Best case scenario with O’Day, he returns by the tail end of the Boston series.

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