O's playoff push shifts into a higher gear starting tonight

I'm sure Orioles players might tell us their playoff push began 123 games ago. They may even say it began weeks before that under the hot Florida sun on the back fields in Sarasota.

But the playoff push really heats up tonight.

The Orioles still have nine games remaining with Boston - and they'll see the Red Sox soon enough - but starting tonight they play back-to-back series with the two teams ahead of them for a pair of American League wild card spots.

They host Tampa Bay for three starting tonight and Oakland follows the Rays into town. A very big week for the Orioles has arrived.

After scoring just 16 runs during their four-game losing streak, the O's put up 15 in the last two days on 25 hits, which included seven doubles and two homers.

Did the offense heat up just in time to face such a tough pitching staff?

When the Rays went 21-5 in July, their starting pitching ERA was 2.54. But it is 4.81 in August, when they are just 5-8.

Brian Roberts has provided a nice lift in the last few days. Over his last seven games, Roberts is 11-for-23 with two doubles, a triple, five walks, four runs and seven RBIs.

Adam Jones talked about Roberts after Sunday's game.

"Mentally, he is good for this team," Jones said. "Physically, if he can play, he drives in runs. Although he's been a leadoff hitter for most of his career, when he has the opportunity to drive in runs, he's been one of the most productive guys I've seen. He's going to be a big help for us if he remains the player he is right now."

Roberts came up with four big RBIs in the last two games and is now batting a rather impressive .545 at 12-for-22 on the season with runners in scoring position.

Over the weekend, Chris Davis hit third and Jones hit fourth in all three games for the Orioles. Davis was asked if he is protected better in the lineup with Jones hitting behind him?

"I don't know. There are not too many guys you can pitch around in this lineup. It helps that Adam is swinging well now, but we've done a good job all year of being a club of guys that pick each other up," he said.

I kind of like how the lineup sets up with Davis third and Jones fourth. Nick Markakis, who is without an extra-base hit over his last 26 games, probably needed to be moved out of the third spot.

The last time Tampa Bay was in town, they swept the Orioles three in a row at Camden Yards from May 15-17. I don't think an O's sweep is mandatory this time, but a series win sure seems pretty important. The Orioles have 39 games left to gain ground on Tampa Bay and other teams, but they sure don't need to take any steps back now.

The O's next 12 games are three each at home against the Rays and A's, and then six on the road at Boston and New York.

The playoff push, no matter what date you feel it truly started, picks up major steam beginning tonight.

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