O’s can’t ex­pect out­side help in quest for play­off spot

Baltimore Sun - - ORI­OLES - Peter.schmuck@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/Sch­muck­S­top Read more from colum­nist Peter Schmuck on his blog, “The Schmuck Stops Here,” at bal­ti­more­sun.com/schmuck­blog and fol­low him @Sch­muck­s­top on Twit­ter.

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.

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