O’s can’t expect outside help in quest for playoff spot
There are a couple of other teams still in play — the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros — but the Tigers clearly are the most existential threat to the Orioles’ playoff possibilities, and look right now as if they were born to be wild.
If the Tigers had done a better job of competing in the American League Central, their current series against the newly crowned division champion Cleveland Indians would be one of the marquee matchups of the regular season’s final week. Instead, it means relatively little to the Indians, who clinched the division title Monday and apparently aren’t in a position to make things tough on the Tigers for the rest of the series.
Manager Terry Francona can’t be blamed for trying to conserve his banged-up starting rotation for the start of the team’s Division Series next week, but the Orioles could not be faulted for wondering how the integrity of the playoff race was served by the Indians’ turning the remaining two games of the series with the Tigers over to their bullpen.
If the Indians had stayed on turn for Wednesday night’s game, 12-game winner Trevor Bauer would have taken the mound in the second game against Detroit. That assignment went instead to right- handed reliever Zach McAllister, who lasted just two innings in a 6-3 loss. This afternoon, the Indians will start left-hander Ryan Merritt, who has pitched a grand total of six innings in the major leagues this year.
It’s not as if the Indians have nothing to play for. They still have a chance to finish with the best record in the American League, which would guarantee them home-field advantage throughout the postseason, but that apparently is a long enough shot that Francona is going to concentrate on his team’s being as healthy and rested as possible.
The Texas Rangers hold a 21⁄ game advantage over the Indians, and play the rest of their games against the fifth-place Milwaukee Brewers and the lastplace Tampa Bay Rays. The Indians might still get a fight from the Kansas City Royals this weekend.
To be fair, Francona doesn’t have a lot of choices after losing Corey Kluber to a quadriceps injury. The decision on Bauer came down to resting him now and pitching him Saturday to line him up for next Thursday’s ALDS opener or pitching him against the Tigers and having him open the playoffs after more than a week of inactivity. He made the right choice for his team and it probably isn’t going to break his heart if the Tigers overtake the Orioles.
The Indians have dominated the Tigers this year. They improved to 14-2 against Detroit with their division-clinching victory Monday and could be forgiven for getting blown out, 12-0, on the evening after their late-night celebration.
The Orioles, meanwhile, pretty much had their way with the Indians during the regular-season series, winning five of the six games.
The final weekend of the regular season also appears to heavily favor the Tigers, who complete this year’s strange interleague schedule with a three-game series on the road against the Atlanta Braves, the team with the worst record in the National League. And, if things get dicey at the end, they have Justin Verlander lined up to pitch Sunday.
What this means for the Orioles is that they might have to win tonight in Toronto and all three games in New York to hold on to one of the wild-card berths … unless they get a big helping hand from the Boston Red Sox, who will go head-to-head with the Blue Jays at Fenway Park this weekend.
The planets don’t appear to be aligned for the Orioles, but — at least for the moment — they still control their future.