The Baltimore Orioles have been in and out of the playoff race so many times this year it's hard to keep track. They've been in the race, left for dead and then back again. Well, consider them back again after taking the first two games in Boston to pull within one of the Texas Rangers for the final wild card spot.
It certainly hasn't been pretty, but the Orioles are off to a strong start on the current 10-game road trip. It even seems like, dare I say, that the magic of 2012 is making a belated return, and not a moment too soon.
The bullpen is suddenly coming together, and the Orioles have won two consecutive tight games in the late innings. Jim Johnson is pitching much better, Kevin Gausman looks like one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, and even T.J. McFarland is making key contributions. With Darren O' Day once again healthy and ready to contribute, the Orioles seem to be close to full strength for the final 11 games of the season.
The lineup continues to scuffle when it comes to putting runs on the board, especially with guys in scoring position. Despite having one of the best ERA's in the league in September, the Orioles have still hovered around .500 because of their inability to break out offensively. It seems like it's been months since the Orioles have had a big night offensively and just blown out their opponent.
Baltimore now sits two games behind wild card leader Tampa Bay, one behind Texas for the final spot, and a half game behind the Cleveland Indians. The O's are also a game and a half ahead of both the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals.
It's still an uphill climb given that the Orioles have a much harder schedule than any of the other wild card contenders, but at least they are making things interesting. The O's have already clinched a series win in Boston but have a chance to sweep away the Red Sox and possibly vault into a tie for the final wild card spot, depending upon the results of other games.
After Boston, the Orioles head to Tampa Bay for a critical four-game set. The Rays have been terrific at home and Tropicana Field has generally been a house of horror for the Orioles. The Rays are likely to have the pitching edge in every game, especially with Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez both not scheduled to pitch in the series.
It would be the perfect time for other starting pitchers and some bats in the lineup to step up and help push the O's closer to a postseason berth.
The Orioles will finish the season with back-to-back series at home against the Toronto Blue Jays and Red Sox, who may be resting some of their players for the postseason at that point.