Finally everyone - from the clubhouse to the dugout, to the media to the fanbase - can turn their full attention to the Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays series that begins tonight at Camden Yards.
The Orioles begin the four-game set leading the AL East by two games. A split or better would be big for Baltimore. The Rays could use three wins or better. No one will win the division this series or lose it, but the results could have a lot to say about who eventually does both.
The Baltimore offense, which put up 10 runs or more four times in a five-game span, now has scored two and no runs the past two games. They lost the series to St. Louis - their first series loss since mid August at San Diego. They were 7-0 the last seven series until losing against the Cardinals.
Both teams enter this series playing well. Tampa Bay (90-57) has won five of six, 12 of 17, 18 of 25 and 21 of the last 30 games.
Baltimore (91-54) has won eight of 11, 14 of 20, 17 of 24 and 20 of the last 29 games.
A stretch of really bad baseball by Tampa Bay from July 1-26 opened the door for the Orioles. The Rays went an MLB-worst 5-15 over a 20-game stretch. In this span the Orioles went from 6.5 games back to 1.5 games up.
If the Orioles win just one game this series, they will win the season series and have an important tiebreaker over the Rays. That would mean Tampa Bay has to beat Baltimore out by one game, because then in a tie situation, the AL East goes to the Orioles.
Said manager Brandon Hyde of the next four games: "I know it’s going to be a big series and it’s a team we know very well, and it’s going to be exciting for the fans and we’re looking forward to it."
The Orioles have gone 6-3 versus the Rays this year even though they have been outscored 33-31 in the season series. The Rays three wins have come by scores of 3-0, 7-2 and 3-0. The O's six wins have come by scores of 4-2, 2-1, 8-6, 4-3, 6-5 and 5-3.
Yep, these teams have played six games on the season decided by a run or two and the Orioles are 6-0 in those games.
But here is an important note on that: Right-hander Félix Bautista has a win and four saves this season versus the Rays, throwing 6 2/3 scoreless on two hits. His four saves against Tampa Bay are his most on the year against any opponent.
They have leaned big time on the big guy to beat the Rays. Now can the O's do it without him? We're about to find out.
Before he suffered left shoulder discomfort and left last night's game in the third inning, Ryan Mountcastle, pregame yesterday, spoke of the season series battles with Tampa Bay.
“They are always tough,” Mountcastle said. “They are a really good team over there and know how to win games. Seems like lately they keep finding a way to win. Going to be a great series, a tough battle and we are excited for it.”
The Birds have done a good job in the weeks leading up to this series by not actually focusing on the series. They kept their one-game-at-time approach and focus to heart. It was not just a phrase, it was how they conducted their business.
“Whatever team we play, we’re going hard each and every night. This series is going to be big coming up, but we have another (13) or so after that, so that will be big as well."
The O's could not pull it out the last two nights and the Rays gained a game in the process.
But now finally, these two teams will play, and it will have a lot to say about which club wins the East and gains a No. 1 seed for the American League playoffs. It is one of the biggest regular-season series in Oriole Park history and four days and nights of exciting baseball with a lot riding are at hand.