Clinching for the playoffs was pretty great and all, but how about that division lead? Not to be forgotten in the shuffle, the Orioles are still tied with New York with three games to play - and as we saw earlier today, they hold the tiebreaker, so if there was still a tie, the decisive game for the division would be a one-game shot at Camden Yards. 92 wins is great, but for that to be a possibility, they have to keep winning, because Boston, who has a starting lineup with neither Pedroia nor Ellsbury in tonight's game, doesn't look like they are going to help.
So, the O's must play the Rays. These Rays are eliminated from the postseason if they lose - and also are eliminated if Oakland wins any of its next three games. But Oakland's game isn't starting until 10pm, so the Rays begin tonight with hope, though dim, still lit. They have something to play for. They might well feel like they are a more deserving team of a postseason spot than the Orioles. If they wanted to demonstrate that, they might have tried winning some more baseball games so they weren't four back of the Orioles with three games to play.
The key question for the O's tonight is this: does Wei-Yin Chen have any life remaining in his left arm for the 2012 season? If he does, that would be great, because then we can think about him pitching in a five-game divisional series and beyond - assuming the Orioles were to make it to the ALDS. If he has no life left in that arm, the chances of winning the division or even hosting the wild card game are lessened, because tonight's game will not go well. As Andrew and I discussed on the podcast last night, it's felt like the games in which he gets completely torched are coming more frequently. Maybe he can finesse his way through tonight.
Orioles hitters will face off against Alex Cobb. This is the latest in the line of young Rays pitchers they pull out of wherever and they come up and pitch well in the rotation. Cobb's actually pitched more like decent-ish, rather than well, with a 4.18 ERA in 129.1 IP that is a bit puzzling when you consider his ground ball rate is 58.6%, a very high number for a starting pitcher. He does not give up a ton of home runs, with less than a homer for every ten innings pitched against lefty batters, but you can be sure the O's lefties like Nate McLouth, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters (switch-hitting) and Jim Thome will try to mash some taters anyway.
There can be no counting on any help from anywhere else. Boston appears to be rolling over for New York. All that's left to do is for the O's to win and keep winning. They've gotten this far. Why stop now?
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||TAMPA BAY RAYS|
|Nate McLouth - LF||Desmond Jennings - LF|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||B.J. Upton - CF|
|Chris Davis - RF||Ben Zobrist - SS|
|Adam Jones - CF||Evan Longoria - 3B|
|Matt Wieters - C||Jeff Keppinger - 1B|
|Jim Thome - DH||Ben Francisco - DH|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Sam Fuld - RF|
|Ryan Flaherty - 2B||Ryan Roberts - 2B|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Chris Gimenez - C|