Make no mistake about this.
Yes, the Orioles face the Boston Red Sox for seven more games and the Toronto Blue Jays three more times this month.
But the biggest series of September could end up being the one that starts tonight at Comerica Park in Detroit.
The Orioles currently lead the Tigers by one game for the second AL Wild Card. No matter what other teams do this weekend, the winner of this series likely will be holding onto a playoff spot with division foes up next on the schedule.
In May, the Orioles took three of four from Detroit at Camden Yards, so if they win just once this weekend, they’ll capture the season series. And that could be big if the clubs have the same record at season’s end and home-field advantage is determined by head-to-head record.
Don’t think this is just a BaltimoreBaseball.com hype thing. This weekend is being viewed as exceptionally important in the Motor City, too.
“It’s going to be the biggest series in Detroit in a couple years,” said Jason Beck, MLB.com’s Detroit Tigers beat writer. “It’s good to have series like this back in Detroit again after really having nothing like this down the stretch last season.”
Beck, this week’s guest on our “Around The Beat” podcast, explains the Tigers’ resurgence this summer after looking like an also-ran in the beginning of the year. Much of it has to do with the rotation’s improvement, beginning with the promotion of 23-year-old right-hander Michael Fulmer, who starts Friday against the Orioles’ 25-year-old righty Kevin Gausman.
Fulmer, who is 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA and throws three above-average pitches for strikes, is a leading candidate for AL Rookie of the Year.
The pitching matchups may end up being the primary storylines for this series. On Saturday, the enigmatic Ubaldo Jimenez tries to keep his roll going against Detroit’s Jordan Zimmermann, who has been on the disabled list with a neck injury.
On Sunday, the Orioles get their own injured starter back as Chris Tillman (right shoulder) is expected to return from the DL to face Tigers’ ace Justin Verlander, who is having his best year since 2012. The last time Tillman and Verlander faced off, on May 13, the Orioles won 1-0 on a home run by Adam Jones.
This series should be pennant-race baseball at its finest, and Beck gives his thoughts on how he expects it to end up. Compelling stuff, people. So listen: