On the brink of first place

First place in September?

The Orioles could claim a share of it tonight.

A win over the Blue Jays, coupled with a Yankees loss at Tropicana Field, would create a first-place tie in the American League East. And it wouldn't involve the Rays or Red Sox. It would be the team widely predicted to lose 100 games this season.

The Orioles have won eight of their last 10 games and 14 of 20. And they're no longer bullied in their own division. They improved yesterday to 29-21 against the AL East.

Success in their division, on the road and against left-handed starters are three major keys to the turnaround in 2012. Those areas used to be hazard zones.

Left-hander Zach Britton will be recalled today and start on normal rest after being optioned following his Aug. 30 gem against the White Sox, when he allowed one run over eight innings. The Orioles needed roster space. They had every intention of bringing him back for tonight's assignment.

Britton has allowed three runs, walked five and struck out 21 in his last three starts, all victories, spanning 21 2/3 innings. As manager Buck Showalter has noted, the lefty is actually getting stronger at a point in the season when others are searching for their reserve tanks to avoid running on fumes.

Britton didn't have a normal spring training because of inflammation in his left shoulder that kept him on a restricted schedule and eventually caused him to be shut down. The Orioles didn't necessarily plan it this way, but he's a fresh shot in the arm to the rotation.

Jason Hammel will throw a bullpen session today, be activated from the disabled list and start on Thursday against the Yankees at Camden Yards. He hasn't pitched for the Orioles since July 13. He hasn't won since June 22 against the Nationals. Another fresh shot.

Is it too soon to speculate on the postseason rotation?

Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen would be in, and then it's up to Showalter to sort through everyone else, including Britton, Miguel Gonzalez, Joe Saunders and Chris Tillman, assuming his elbow issue isn't serious.

It would be nice to make that assumption, but the Orioles have received their share of bad MRI news after scheduling one as a "precaution."

Jake Arrieta will join the group of starters who have been relegated to the bullpen, including Randy Wolf, Brian Matusz, Steve Johnson and Tommy Hunter. Losing Tillman would be a blow, but at least the Orioles have options.

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