Game 124: Rays (70-52) @ Orioles (67-56), 7:05

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Orioles open up a three-game series against the Rays in Baltimore on Monday night. The O's will have to beat ace David Price to extend their winning streak to three games. Their own best pitcher, Chris Tillman, takes the mound in the game.

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The stretch of games against soft teams is over and the Orioles went 9-8. That was regrettable. More regrettable will be if that's how they perform now that they're about to play the teams ahead of them in the standings. The next six games are against the two wild card teams, starting with the opener to the three-game series against the Rays tonight.

The O's could sweep this series and be a half-game behind the Rays in the standings. Get swept and they've got a gigantic uphill battle to make it back into the playoffs. The Orioles, in essence, must follow the words from The Shawshank Redemption: "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'."

No big deal, to get started down that path they just have to win a game when the other team's starter is David Price. He spent half of May and all of June on the disabled list after having a 5+ ERA in each of April and May. In July and August he has had a sub-2.00 ERA. Price has thrown four complete games in his last nine starts and hasn't gone fewer than seven innings in any game. What would it be like to have a pitcher like that? Color me envious.

Instead, the Orioles have Chris Tillman as their best pitcher. He's in second in the American League in wins! Isn't that great? Tillman has had a good year, pitching at an above-league average level for a full season for the first time in his career. He has been the best Orioles pitcher, but he's not playing his way into the Cy Young award voting - or at least he shouldn't, assuming an even vaguely rational BBWAA electorate, which is never a sure thing.

Don't get me wrong, it's nice to see Tillman pitching the way he is given the complete failure of every other young O's pitcher in recent years, and most O's pitchers of any age in recent years. A rotation full of pitchers getting Tillman's results would have the Orioles handily in playoff position.

The Orioles are partying like it's 2005 with tonight's lineup having Brian Roberts leading off. How will that work out? Is it something we might see more of against left-handed pitchers? Nick Markakis has no business at the top or middle of a batting order right now, so why not give Roberts a shot where he was once a mainstay in the lineup? Speaking of Markakis, he's now batting seventh, which is probably fitting for a player who has not had an extra-base hit in a full calendar month.

That's not an exaggeration. Markakis' last extra-base hit was a double on July 19. It is August 19 and he will probably not get an extra-base hit tonight either.

They have spent all year showing that they do not do winning streaks. They could make it three games in a row tonight, if they can manage to beat Price, or at least chase Price and then beat the Rays bullpen - but they don't chase pitchers either, especially not aces who get a lot of strikeouts, so why would we ever expect something like that? Miracles do happen - and the O's could use one tonight.

Brian Roberts - 2B Desmond Jennings - CF
Manny Machado - 3B Ben Zobrist - 2B
Chris Davis - 1B Evan Longoria - 3B
Adam Jones - CF Wil Myers - RF
Matt Wieters - C James Loney - 1B
J.J. Hardy - SS Yunel Escobar - SS
Nick Markakis - RF Matt Joyce - LF
Danny Valencia - DH Jose Molina - C
Steve Pearce - LF Kelly Johnson - DH

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