The Orioles have been holding their own against the AL's best

Tonight the Orioles play their second game in a stretch of 11 of 14 against first-place teams Chicago and New York. Last night's 4-3 win got the Orioles off to a good start.

Right after that stretch ends on Sept. 9 against the Yankees at Camden Yards, the O's then play six straight against Tampa Bay and Oakland, two other playoff contenders.

In other words, if they are still in the race for a playoff spot by mid-September, they will have earned it. After that they end the regular season with series against Seattle, Boston, Toronto, Boston and Tampa Bay.

The Orioles are 11-12 against the current first-place American League teams in New York, Chicago and Texas. If you take away the fact they lost their first four games this year against the Yankees and their first two against Texas, they are 11-6 in their last 17 against current AL division leaders.

Not bad, and obviously the schedule just gets harder, not easier, after this current series. Starting Friday the Orioles begin a stretch of seven games over 10 days versus the Yankees. The Orioles are 5-2 in their last seven games against New York.

Some other notes as the O's and Chisox play tonight at the Yard:

* The Orioles' 70 wins in 2012 are their most since 2006, when they also won 70 games. The last time they won more than 70 games in a season was 2005 (74).

* Since the start of the 2011 season, the Orioles are 46-28 (.621) in one-run games, the highest winning percentage in baseball. Since Buck Showalter took over as manager on August 3, 2010, the Orioles are 58-33 (.637) in one-run games. With their 24-6 (.800) record in one-run games this year, the Orioles are on pace to have the highest winning percentage in major league history in one-run games. The record is currently held by the 1981 Orioles, who were 21-7 (.750) in one-run contests.

* The Orioles have won three in a row, six of the last eight, nine of their past 13, 15 of 21 and 24 of their last 37 games. The Orioles are also 11-3 in their last 14 home games.

I'll end with this attendance note: Last night's crowd of 10,995 was the lowest Monday night in all of major league baseball. Tonight's crowd will likely be in the 12,000 range and projections for Thursday's day game are that the O's could draw fewer than 10,000 for that game that will start at 12:35 p.m.

Where have all the fans gone?

O's gain early 4-0 lead: Just when it looked like Chris Sale might pitch a shutout tonight with dominant stuff early in this game, the Orioles struck for three runs against him in the bottom of the second.

With two outs and none on, they loaded the bases with a single and two walks. Nick Markakis jumped on the first pitch then and drilled a three-run double to center. Lefty batters were hitting .195 with an OPS of .503 against Sale. Markakis now has 16 RBIs over his last 20 games.

Lew Ford added a solo homer in the third for a 4-0 lead. He has homered in back-to-back games for the fist time since homering in three straight August 19-21, 2005.

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