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Thursday night Orioles game thread: vs. Rays, 7:15pm ET

Ace Kyle Bradish takes the mound as the Orioles open a series against Tampa that could decide the AL East title.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Boston Red Sox Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not yet October, but the postseason has arrived in Baltimore. Such is the tremendous importance of this weekend’s series against Tampa Bay. While there are still a handful of series left after this showdown between the Orioles and Rays, it certainly feels like this series will play a huge part in deciding the winner of the AL East. The good news for the Orioles is that almost all the outcomes from this series are beneficial to them. A win tonight guarantees the O’s win the season series over Tampa and secures the ever-important tiebreaker. A win tonight would also mean that,at worst,the Orioles would come out of this series tied with the Rays atop the division.

Birdland couldn’t ask for a better opening assault on their Florida rivals than sending ace Kyle Bradish to the mound. The consensus among Orioles fans is that Bradish should be the pitcher to get the ball in Game 1 of their first playoff series, and tonight we get to see a dry run of that theory against Tampa. There are any number of ways to describe Bradish’s excellence in the second half of the season. You could point to his 2.63 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break. You could highlight the fact that eight of those 10 outings were quality starts, including the last six in a row. However, the most important number to focus on with Bradish is the fact that the Orioles 7-0 in Bradish’s last seven starts. After a disappointing series against St. Louis, the feeling of desperation for a win tonight is palpable. As he makes his first start since turning 27, Bradish feels exactly the man to deliver that win.

Opposing Bradish tonight is veteran right-hander Aaron Civale. Acquired from the Guardians as the Rays lone trade deadline acquisition, Civale has been solid but uninspiring in his seven starts for Tampa Bay. He’s posted good strikeout numbers, putting up a 10.1 K/9, but has struggled to give the Rays length. The 29-year-old has only recorded an out in 6th inning twice for Tampa, and has yet to pitch into the 7th. Hopefully the O’s bats can exorcise their demons against soft-tossing pitchers in time for tonight’s game. Civale’s fastball velocity ranks in the 20th percentile for all major league pitchers and he relies on a cutter-sinker combo that sits in the high 80s to low 90s.

There is also sure to be plenty of attention on how the Orioles could use their bench in tonight’s matchup. While he didn’t make the starting lineup, Heston Kjerstad will be on the bench after being called up in advance of tonight’s game. The O’s offense seemed to lack a little oomph in their last two games against the Cardinals, and Kjerstad definitely could be the player to provide some of that missing power. Here’s hoping his first MLB hit is a game-deciding HR off the warehouse.

Whoever delivers the big performance though, it doesn’t feel like hyperbole to say that a win tonight would be the Orioles biggest win of the season. To paraphrase a famous scene between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson, the Orioles and all of Birdland want to know the truth about how good this team—and this game will provide that truth. Let’s just hope we can handle the truth.

Orioles Lineup

  1. Adley Rutschman (S) C
  2. Gunnar Henderson (L) SS
  3. Anthony Santander (S) DH
  4. Ryan O’Hearn (L) 1B
  5. Austin Hays (R) LF
  6. Cedric Mullins (L) CF
  7. Aaron Hicks (S) RF
  8. Jordan Westburg (R) 3B
  9. Adam Frazier (L) 2B

Starting pitcher: Kyle Bradish (11-6, 3.03 ERA, 145 Ks, 1.09 WHIP)

Rays Lineup

  1. Yandy Díaz (R) 1B
  2. Brandon Lowe (L) 2B
  3. Randy Arozarena (R) LF
  4. Isaac Paredes (R) 3B
  5. Josh Lowe (L) RF
  6. Harold Ramírez (R) DH
  7. Taylor Walls (S) SS
  8. Luke Raley (L) CF
  9. Christian Bethancourt (R) C

Starting pitcher: Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.96 ERA, 98 Ks, 1.12 WHIP)