Off to Tampa and ...?

I packed up half of my closet and headed to the airport this morning for my 7:35 a.m. flight to Tampa.

The Orioles and Rays are playing a three-game series, but what happens after Wednesday is anybody's guess.

A one-game playoff with the Yankees on Thursday at Camden Yards? A flight to Detroit? Chicago? Oakland? None of the above?

Almost lost in the fuss over clinching a playoff berth last night is how the Orioles have one fewer victory than the Rangers. One fewer victory than the team with the best record in the American League.

I argued last night that an Angels loss was preferred because the Orioles needed to take the first step - while still in the air - of qualifying for the postseason. Otherwise, they'd walk into Tropicana Field with the possibility hanging in the dome air that they could get swept by the Rays and maybe be eliminated from contention.

In his conference call with reporters late last night, manager Buck Showalter referred to clinching as "a step." First things first. Now the Orioles can jockey for playoff position and assure themselves of more games at Camden Yards.

Tonight's game is important for a few reasons, including how it gives Wei-Yin Chen an opportunity to prove that he's not tired. He's completed seven innings only once in his last nine starts and was done after the fifth in his most recent outing.

Miguel Gonzalez starts on Tuesday, but Wednesday remains listed as TBA. Chris Tillman would work on normal rest and most certainly take the ball if it's a must-win situation for the Orioles. Otherwise, he could be pushed back to Friday or Saturday, depending on when the Orioles are scheduled for their first playoff game.

Jason Hammel will throw his simulated game today in Sarasota, and the Orioles will determine whether he's ready to pitch for them again. He could be slotted anywhere.

Today's agenda also includes checking on Nick Markakis, who will have the pins removed from his left thumb. Wilson Betemit will have his right wrist examined again, and the Orioles will try to figure out whether he could be part of their playoff roster. And Brian Roberts is supposed to stop by the clubhouse. We haven't seen him since he underwent hip surgery.

Talk about bittersweet. Roberts must be thrilled for his teammates, but crushed that he can't be part of the playoff experience after enduring all these losing seasons in a row.

Players will be asked about their unscheduled landing in Jacksonville last night, and their reactions to clinching long after the final out in their game against the Red Sox.

Chris Davis will attempt to homer for the fifth straight game, which would break a tie with Nolan Reimold for the longest streak this season. He's 1-for-1 with a walk lifetime against Rays starter Alex Cobb. An extremely small sample size.

Davis is batting .309 with 18 homers and 43 RBIs against the American League East this season.

Jim Thome is batting .333 (20-for-60) with eight RBIs in his last 17 games since July 15.

The Orioles have hit 14 home runs in their last four games. They've scored 31 runs in their last four, 24 coming via the long ball.

Matt Wieters has thrown out at least one runner attempting to steal in three consecutive games, and 29 this season. And yet, the Rays will try to run on him. They all do.

My flight will be full of baseball writers today. The Sun's Peter Schmuck and Ed Encina have arrived at the gate. A few others will be joining us. At least one of us is working on three hours sleep.

Hopefully, none of us end up in Jacksonville.

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