The Orioles are 3 1/2 games behind the Yankees in the American League East. They head to the Bronx after Thursday afternoon's tilt with the White Sox.
You see where I'm going here?
It's gone from interesting to really, really interesting. Manager Buck Showalter and his players aren't thinking about the wild card. They're focused only on the division lead.
Oh yeah, and Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is expected to miss the weekend series with a calf injury.
Every roster move that the Orioles execute, every decision, is made while giving consideration to the playoffs. They optioned pitcher Jake Arrieta to Triple-A Norfolk after last night's 4-3 win, and he won't return before Sept. 4. He can't be included on the postseason roster unless he's replacing someone on the disabled list.
And then there's Wilson Betemit, who remains on the DL with a right wrist injury. He will take batting practice again this afternoon and could begin a rehab assignment Wednesday at Double-A Bowie.
While meeting with reporters yesterday, manager Buck Showalter said that Betemit would play "at least two days with an affiliate," and then the Orioles would "activate him on the first at the earliest."
That would be Sept. 1, when rosters can expand. One day after playoff rosters must be set.
It's my assumption that Betemit still could be included on it because he'd be coming off the disabled list. The same holds true for Jason Hammel, Troy Patton and Jim Thome.
You may be thinking, "Who cares?" OK, fair enough, but it otherwise would be an interesting exclusion of a player who was the regular third baseman before Manny Machado took over the position. A player who's batting .306 with 11 home runs and a .510 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching (compared to .143 with one home run and a .190 slugging percentage against left-handers.)
Without an expanded roster, how would the Orioles fit Betemit back on the 25-man? They haven't carried Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty this long to suddenly let him go. Removing outfielder Lew Ford would again cause the Orioles to lean too heavily to the left. Same with Robert Andino, who backs up at second, shortstop and third. Nate McLouth gives them plus-defense in left field, speed on the basepaths and some clutch hitting.
Infielder Omar Quintanilla has cooled off, going 0-for-16, 1-for-19 and 2-for-23, depending on how far back you want to go. He's much better defensively than Betemit, but he would probably be the most vulnerable, especially with Andino around to back up shortstop J.J. Hardy.
And who gets bumped for Thome if he's able to play again?
As long as we're talking about playoff rosters, just a reminder that the Orioles can remove Flaherty without having to expose him to waivers or offer him back to the Cubs. They're only required to keep him through the regular season.
I'm not suggesting that they'll drop him if they win the division or earn a wild card spot. It's just a reminder if you're creating your own playoff roster.
And yes, we're talking about the playoffs.