Zach Wilt: Make or break stretch ahead for O's

On Friday, I opened up my mailbox to see an envelope from the Orioles with my season ticket holder postseason order form. This was both exciting and nerve-racking as a guy who has experienced the many highs and lows of the 2013 season to date. I want my money to go toward more games this season, not a down payment for 2014.

It's funny how quickly spoiled the Orioles have made me after having such low expectations for the majority of my life. This time last year, I was counting down the games to 82 wins. Now, anything less than a postseason berth seems like a letdown. It's easy to forget how far this team has come the past few s6easons.

I'll send my order form back in hopes of wearing a jacket to the Yard for a few late fall games, but with the Birds' remaining schedule I truly have no idea what my chances are of watching O's postseason baseball this season. According to Baseball Prospectus' postseason probabilities, the O's have a 17.3 percent chance of grabbing a wild card spot in the AL and a 19.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. The numbers will fluctuate greatly over the next month as the Orioles play 26 of their last 33 games against AL East opponents.

Here's how it breaks down:
* 9 games remaining against Red Sox (3 home, 6 away)
* 7 games remaining against Yankees (4 home, 3 away)
* 6 games remaining against Blue Jays (3 home, 3 away)
* 4 games remaining against Rays (all 3 away)

After their off day on Monday, the Orioles play 20 straight games before their next break (Sept. 16). They face the Red Sox for three in Boston, the Yankees for three in New York, the Indians for three in Cleveland, come home for a four-game series against the White Sox and a four-game series against the Yankees, then travel to Toronto for a three-game set. I'm exhausted just thinking about.

To make myself feel better, I often look back at the 2012 standings. On Aug. 27, 2012, the Birds were 3 1/2 games back of the Yankees for first place in the AL East and tied with the A's for the top wild card spot. Today, the Birds find themselves 5 1/2 games back of the first-place Boston Red Sox. The difference, however, is that Oakland was 70-57 at this time last year as opposed to the wild card-leading Rays, who are 74-55, and A's, who are 73-57. The first-place Yankees were 74-54 this time a season ago compared to the Red Sox, who are 77-55. The 2013 Orioles may be a better team than they were a season ago, but the competition in front of them is also stronger.

The Orioles are 25-25 against their AL East foes this season. Here's how they've fared against them each individually:
* 6-4 vs. Red Sox this season (4-3 home, 2-1 away)
* 7-5 vs. Yankees this season (5-1 home, 2-4 away)
* 6-9 vs. Rays this season (3-6 home, 3-3 away)
* 6-7 vs. Blue Jays this season (4-2 home, 2-5 away)

Of late, the Orioles seem to have been a thorn in the side of the Red Sox, which is great news considering Boston just took two of three from the red-hot Dodgers in L.A. Since 2010, the Orioles have gone 36-28 against the BoSox.

Perhaps most encouraging were the recent performances of Nick Markakis and Jim Johnson. On Sunday, Markakis snapped a month-plus long drought without an extra base-hit when he doubled and homered in the Orioles' 10-3 win over the A's. Markakis has hit just .224/.299/.271 in August after being a crucial part of the O's run in 2012 before going down with a broken thumb in early September.

Johnson earned his 40th save on Friday with a beautiful nine-pitch performance in which he recorded eight strikes. J.J. has had ups and downs this season, leading the league in blown saves with nine, but if he can return to 2012 regular season form, the Orioles can pick up some serious ground over the next month.

Regardless of whether or not I'll be back out at Camden Yards in October, it's important for me to remember just how far this team has come and how fun a pennant race is at the end of the summer. I was 9 years old the last time the O's put together back-to-back seasons like this. Buck's Birds have spoiled me quick.

Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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