Spoiler Alert: O's are Still Playing Ball

We’re down to the stretch run in MLB, with only a couple of races left that are actually close.  Oddly, the O’s find themselves in the middle of these races.  Unfortunately, they are not actually in the races, which is to say, the O’s could be the deciding factor in the AL West and AL Wild Card races by playing the role of spoiler to potential playoff teams.  Is there anything better than playing spoiler to someone else's postseason aspirations?  (Oh.  Right.  Actually making the playoffs could be better.  But I doubt it.)

Tuesday night, an eighth inning homer from yet-to-live-up-to-expectations Matt Wieters broke a 2-2 tie and propelled the O’s past the Rays, 4-2.  This was particularly hurtful for Tampa because the Red Sox romped the Jays 18-6, not only giving Tim Wakefield his 200th win but, more importantly, increasing their lead over the Rays to four games.  Wednesday night, knowing the Red Sox had lost to the Jays earlier in the day, the Rays had another chance to gain on the Red Sox.  But the O’s came through once more, taking the Rays down 6-2 this time, again using a Wieters eighth inning 2-run bomb to ice the game away.  Thanks to Baltimore, Tampa is still four games back going into Thursday’s games.

Will that be the last we hear of the Orioles this year?  Not a chance.  The Angels, who are only three games back of the Rangers in the AL West, visit Baltimore for three important games starting Friday.  Tentatively, the O’s will be counting on young starters Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, and Rick VandenHurk to counter the talented Angels trio of Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and Jered Weaver.  The O’s then go to Boston for four games, Detroit for four, and then finish up with three more at home against the Red Sox.

On paper, these matchups look like an absolute nightmare for the O’s—and they probably are.  Remember, however, what the Orioles did last year in August, September, and October under Buck Showalter, who started his managerial stint on August 3, 2010.  In his 57 games in 2010, the squad somehow compiled a 34-23 record, second best in the majors, this after going a major league worst 32-73 prior to his arrival.  Obviously the O’s have regressed back to their usual ways this year, including in August and September, but don’t underestimate a team full of slightly-over-seasoned veterans, intriguing prospects, and middle-of-the-road minor leaguers again stepping up for some random reason in late September.  Even though they were eliminated from the playoff race on about May 3rd (give or take a couple months), a lot of the veterans like Vlad Guerrero and Cesar Izturis are playing for new contracts from the team and/or auditioning for potential suitors for next year.  The younger guys like Matt Angle are trying to show themselves and management that they are capable of playing well and becoming regulars in the big leagues and/or trying to keep their big league dreams alive.  Don’t underrate the allure of money and playing time to make these guys play better.

As a fan, I am most looking forward to the seven games against the Red Sox.  Reading many different articles in the past few days about MLB’s stretch run shows that most writers are making the (logical) conclusion that the Red Sox are a near certainty to make the playoffs, based almost solely on the fact that most of their remaining games are against the O’s.  And while the O’s are a dismal 3-8 with a cringe-worthy -25 run differential against the Red Sox this year, wouldn’t it rule if a team that was getting consistent playing time from Robert Andino and Nolan Reimold somehow kept those mighty, pompous, entitled Red Sox, they of the $160 million payroll, out of the postseason?  The Red Sox have been sliding for a couple weeks now, going 3-10 since September began, so the O’s will either be the remedy the Red Sox need or will complete Boston’s collapse.

For my money, nothing would make me happier than seeing Dave Ortiz wander back to the dugout with his head down after striking out in the 9th with the bases loaded against Kevin Gregg in the last game of the season, keeping Boston out of the playoffs.  (Sorry for getting relatively heated about this, but nothing in sports makes my blood boil more than Ortiz running faster than he has all year in order to attack Gregg for committing the horrific crimes of throwing inside and yelling at Ortiz for not running to first after a popout in a game July 8.  I’ve always disliked the Red Sox but that just about pushed me over the edge.  I told you they were entitled.  And also, I’m not that sorry.)

With the season winding down, most fan bases have about two weeks left to watch their teams play.  Hopefully the O’s will show some spirit and not lay down for the Angels and Red Sox.  Maybe they can pull off a few wins and keep those teams’ playoff hopes on hold.  It’s possible.  Just ask the Rays.

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