For most of the season, most other teams likely looked at playing the Orioles with some sense of relief. “Phew, enough with those Phillies and Yankees – let’s pick up 2-3 games here and get back on track.” Seeing several games against Baltimore down the stretch seemed like a nice way to extend a division or Wild Card lead, or to get a little closer to whoever you were chasing. Not so fast though, as the Orioles have been playing spoiler recently.
The Rays had won 7 of their last 8 games to move to 3.5 games behind the Red Sox in the Wild Card race when they went to play the Orioles. They made it 8 of 9 after game won, but lost the next two – allowing the O’s to come from behind in both games – and had to head to Boston down 4. From the perspective of an Orioles’ fan, it was a tiny bit odd cheering in this series as wins by the O’s helped the Red Sox (and I, like I imagine most O’s fans, am more partial to Tampa Bay).
The Angels came into Baltimore having won four straight series – including one against New York. They were within 3 games of Texas in the AL West. Then they promptly dropped 2 of 3, despite having their three best pitchers on the mound (only Jered Weaver won, as Dan Haren and Ervin Santana both took losses). They left town 4.5 back and pretty much have to set their sights on the Wild Card.
For the Orioles, going to Boston usually ends poorly. The Sox hadn’t been playing well though – losing 13 of their last 17 (including 3 of 4 to the Rays) – and had seen their lead shrink to just 2 games. They demolished the O’s 18-9 in game two of the four-game set, in more normal fashion, but last all three of the other games – twice as the Birds came back in the late innings. They’re fortunate that the Yankees have won the first three games of their series versus Tampa Bay (setting them 2.5 back), but it has allowed LA to get into the mix (also 2.5 back now).
The Orioles head off to Detroit for four games that won’t mean much, but then come back home to host Boston for the final three games of the season. There’s a fair chance that the Red Sox will need to win at least one of those games to make the play-offs, which gives the O’s not only the chance to make life a little tougher for a contender, but to knock them out. Given how rough 2011 has been in Baltimore, that would be a pretty sweet way to wrap up the season.