Zach Wilt: O's playoff fortunes are in their own hands

Could there possibly be a better slogan for the Orioles right now than "Buckle Back Up"? If there is, I can't think of one. The O's are in the driver's seat with 13 games remaining in the 2013 season. They're currently two games back of the second wild card spot and tonight they open up a seven game road trip with three in Fenway Park against the firs- place Red Sox and four in St. Petersburg, Fla., against the wild card hopeful Rays.

Yeah, "Buckle Back Up." Hopefully, you're strapped in like fighter pilot. It's going to be a wild ride.

Despite the off-day, the Orioles picked up a half-game as the Rays defeated the Rangers 6-2. They remain behind the Indians (81-69), who are now just a half-game behind the Rangers for the second wild card in the American League.

After going 20-7 in August, Texas has had an absolutely brutal 2-12 September. They have been outscored by the their opponents 45-71 and have allowed an average of 5.07 runs per game. After concluding their four-game series with the Rays, the Rangers play three in Kansas City, then wrap up their season at home against the Astros and Angels.

The way Texas is playing, there's a strong chance that they fall out of the race when all is said and done. The Royals have gone 10-5 in September and are directly behind the Orioles for the second AL wild card spot at 2 1/2 games back. Meanwhile, the surging Angels (73-77) are 11-5 in September and are looking to finish their season with a record above .500.

Unfortunately for the Orioles, after Cleveland finishes its series against the Royals, the Tribe will wrap up their season against three teams with a combined record of 174-275 (the Astros are 51-99, the White Sox are 59-91 and the Twins are 64-85). Terry Francona's Indians are 10-5 in September after going 12-16 in August. An easy schedule the last month of the season has helped keep them in contention for a postseason berth.

Of course, there's always the possibility of the Orioles upsetting the Rays. Their four-game series that begins Friday will determine the fate of both of these AL East teams. Tampa Bay is 9-6 against the Orioles this season, but just 18-23 in its last 41 games. The Birds are 8-7 this month and have outscored opponents 63-51.

The race in the American League is so tight that I wouldn't be surprised to see baseball's tiebreaker scenarios determine which teams advance. You better tighten that seatbelt if that's the case.

Major League Baseball released a comprehensive tiebreaker summary on its Web site earlier this month. In short, homefield advantage for play-in games is first determined by head-to-head records, then by higher winning percentage in intradivision games. Tiebreaker play-in games would be played Monday, Sept. 30. From there, it gets very complicated, with solutions to the many ties the AL could run into at the season's end.

Though Baseball Prospectus' playoff probabilities gives the Orioles just a 5.6 percent chance of returning to the postseason, their destiny remains very much in their hands. Should they get back to October, it won't be because another team fell out and allowed the O's to sneak it. Rather, that spot will be hard-earned in one of the most exciting playoff races I've ever watched.

I don't know about you, but I can't think of a better time to "Buckle Back Up."

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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