For the first time since August 21st, the Orioles have an offday at home on Monday. When they resume play on Tuesday against the Washington Nationals, they’ll be 2 ½ games ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Rays in the American League East with a magic number of three.
Any combination of Orioles wins and Rays losses equaling three gives the Orioles the American League East. In the unlikely event that they don’t win the East, the Orioles would play a best two-of-three wild-card series beginning on October 3rd.
Even with consecutive strong starts from Kyle Gibson and John Means, the Orioles’ bullpen is still overworked, and another six- or seven-inning start from Kyle Bradish on Tuesday night would be welcomed.
When the Orioles clinch the AL East, which could come as early as Wednesday, they’ll guarantee themselves five days off because the Division Series doesn’t begin until October 7th.
The Orioles have six games remaining—two with the Nationals on Tuesday and Wednesday, and four against Boston from Thursday through Sunday. The Rays have five games, two with Boston on Tuesday and Wednesday with an offday Thursday, and three at Toronto.
Assuming they win the East, the Orioles will watch the wild-card series between Tampa Bay and, as it stands now, Toronto. They’d play home games against the winner in a best-of-five series on October 7th and 8th, play on the road October 10th, and if necessary, the 11th. A decisive fifth game would be held in Baltimore on October 13th.
The Orioles would host the American League Championship Series, which is a best-of-seven, beginning October 15th.
The World Series begins on October 27th. The team with the best record hosts Games 1, 2, and, if necessary, 6 and 7.
Even if the Orioles clinch the East by Wednesday or Thursday, there’s still much to play for. The Orioles’ record of 97-59 is three games worse than Atlanta’s 100-56.
If the Orioles could somehow finish with a better record — and the Braves hold the tiebreaker because they beat the Orioles in two of three games at Atlanta in May — they would have home-field advantage in the Series.
That’s also true for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who took two of three from the Orioles in Baltimore in July. The Dodgers, the National League West champs, have a 96-59 record, a half-game worse than the Orioles.
The Orioles would have home-field advantage against any other National League opponent.
Besides sewing up the East, this week is important for Oriole starting pitchers. Manager Brandon Hyde must choose his rotation for the Division Series and one pitcher from the current starting staff will be excluded and likely sent to the bullpen.
Bradish has been the most consistent starter and Rodriguez has pitched well recently. He’s 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA in his last five starts.
Gibson, who allowed a run on five hits in seven-plus innings on Sunday, gives the Orioles postseason experience, and Means, who held Cleveland hitless for 6 2/3 innings and allowed one hit in 7 1/3 on Saturday, gives the Orioles a left-handed starter.
Dean Kremer, who’ll likely start Thursday, has a 4.67 ERA in four September starts that have lasted on average just over four innings and needs a strong outing in his final regular-season start.
Each of the five starters will get a start this week. Bradish could get a second one if the Orioles need Game 162 on Sunday to determine the East.
This week will also be important for the bullpen. It’s still unclear if closer Félix Bautista, who has an elbow injury, will return. He’s been throwing regularly in the bullpen and the Orioles haven’t provided any information about their plans for him.
If they plan to activate Bautista for the Division Series, they’ll have to drop a pitcher and one of the starters could go to the bullpen. Jorge López, who was acquired on September 2nd, is not eligible to pitch in the postseason.
On the position player side, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle remains on the 10-day injured list and while he’s eligible to play on Wednesday, his return seems doubtful. An early clinching would give Mountcastle 10 additional days for his sore left shoulder to heal.
Mountcastle’s reinstatement would mean a current position player leaves. Outfielder Ryan McKenna replaced him on the active roster, Teams can carry just 26 players and a maximum of 13 pitchers in the postseason, down from the 28 players and 14 pitches they’re carrying this month.
The Orioles could opt for 12 pitchers and 14 position players, but with Hyde’s liberal use of the bullpen, that’s not likely to happen.
The Orioles could use Mountcastle’s power. They haven’t hit a home run in the last five games, their longest drought since an eight-game homerless streak in April 2022.