Losing 5-2 to the last-place Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night wasn’t good for a whole lot of reasons.
But here is the most important one: The Orioles (81-67) are in serious jeopardy of losing three of four to the Rays with the division-leading Boston Red Sox coming to town for four Monday.
If you looked at this series against the Rays before Thursday’s series opener, there were two obvious thoughts.
The Orioles, who had won 11 of 15 against Tampa Bay previously, should win three of four, but absolutely, positively couldn’t afford to lose three of four.
And, if one of those games looked like a fairly certain loss it would be Sunday’s contest between Tampa Bay’s Jake Odorizzi and the Orioles’ Wade Miley.
Now that game looms huge, especially with the Orioles back to three games behind the Red Sox in the division-title race.
“I think at this time, it’s not necessarily a must win, but at this point in time of the year you need every W you can get,” Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said. “I think we have 14 left and, at this point, you can’t give games away. We’re not giving them away, but we’ve just got to go out there tomorrow, handle Odorizzi, get some runs early and let our starter settle in and bring in that bullpen.”
Miley is 1-5 with an 8.41 ERA in eight starts for the Orioles. The slot was initially listed as “to be determined,” but Orioles manager Buck Showalter decided that Miley’s solid numbers versus Tampa Bay (4-2, 2.81 ERA in eight starts) and the desire to give Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman an extra day’s rest outweighed Miley’s struggles as an Oriole.
Odorizzi has been excellent in the second half (6-1, 2.78 ERA in 11 starts), but typically has had his troubles with the Orioles (3-4, 5.48 ERA in 13 games) and at Camden Yards (1-3, 7.26 ERA in six starts).
So maybe this is the classic reverse-lock. On paper, the Rays win the starting pitching matchup, but the Orioles are the ones that have to win the game.
To be fair, the Orioles seem to rise to the occasion this year when their backs are against the AL East wall.
And, by the way, don’t call Sunday a must-win to Showalter.
“I don’t get into that mentality that this has to happen, that has to happen. Our guys will show up and compete their butt off,” he said. “We’ll do what needs to be done, and if it leads to a win, so be it. Our guys understand. They don’t need me stating the obvious. They understand the atmosphere that they’re playing in.”
One other thing that’s worth pointing out here.
The American League East is still the beast.
Four of the five teams are in the playoff hunt. If the season ended today – or in the next couple days – three of the five AL playoff teams would be from the East.
And the only sub-.500 squad in the group, the Rays (63-85), have now won two out of three this week in both Toronto and Baltimore. That’s not easy to do.
“You say what you want about the Rays and their standings, but they’ve got a formidable major league team over there They’re not just laying down, dying, quitting and just letting us win,” Jones said. “Right now, they are throwing a little curveball into the standings with us and how they did with Toronto.”
The potential for the real knee-buckler comes Sunday.
And it’s up to Miley and the rest of his teammates to make sure they don’t drop another one heading into the crucial Boston series.