Here is the deal: if the Orioles win the next two games, the worst that can happen is a wild card game played at Camden Yards. The reason for this has to do with Oakland playing Texas and the proximity of all of these teams in the standings. Should the Orioles win two games, they will end up with 94 wins, and that means that no matter what outcome happens between the AL West teams, the Orioles will beat one of them. If Texas and Oakland split, Texas wins the AL West and Oakland ends with 93 wins. If Oakland sweeps the series, Oakland wins the West and Texas ends with 93 wins. In either case, the Orioles have to get to 94 wins.
Of course, to get to 94 wins, they have to get to 93 tonight. There's been no room for error for this team for months. Every little slip-up made it all the less likely, and with so few games left the importance of everything is magnified. Manny Machado's error last night felt like the worst thing ever because of this scarcity of time left. Its relative importance to the remainder of the season was necessarily greater than all that had come before it.
Miguel Gonzalez will thus be the most important person ever with his start tonight. How does that make you feel? I don't know how it makes me feel. I like Gonzalez's results. You can't hate a 3.45 ERA for an Orioles starter. That doesn't mean I will like his results tonight. The unknown is a scary thing when outcomes actually matter. I haven't gotten used to it yet and I'm clearly not going to get used to it this season. Maybe the Orioles will keep being good and I can get used to it in five years. For tonight, it's back on that rollercoaster. Buckle up.
The O's will be facing off against "Big Game" James Shields. I have yet to figure out why they call him Big Game. Maybe they just think it sounds cool? Shields has also not sucked this year, with a 3.62 ERA overall. That ERA is a couple of tenths of a point better at home, and batters slug 26 points fewer against Shields at the Trop as compared with all road games. The dead dome air and the sky-high ceiling make the Trop kind of a pitcher's park, at least as long as Chris Davis isn't hitting massive catwalk home runs.
Shields has struck out 208 batters this year in 218.2 IP. Not for the first time, I wonder what it would be like to have a pitcher like that on the Orioles. Perhaps some day, we will find out. Tonight is not the night to worry about all of that, however. Tonight, let's just worry about tonight, and hope the Orioles win and keep those dreams of at least one home playoff game alive.
|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||Matt Joyce - RF|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Ryan Roberts - 2B|
|Ryan Flaherty - 2B||Luke Scott - DH|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Chris Gimenez - C|