The Rays snapped a six-game losing streak in dramatic fashion Wednesday, reminding us all that they’re simply too talented, too poised and too well-coached to overlook in the AL East divisional race. But while Tampa Bay remains public enemy No. 1 in Boston, the Orioles are actually in a better position to give the Red Sox fits down the stretch.
The Rays hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Orioles in the AL wild card race. Baltimore trails Boston by six games in the AL East, whereas Tampa trails the Red Sox by three games. According to ESPN.com’s Hunt for October tracker, the Rays have a 69.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and the Orioles have a 32.1 percent chance. Clearly, this doesn’t bode well for the O’s, but there are some other factors working in Baltimore’s favor as we hit August’s midway point.
Of the Rays’ 44 remaining games, 21 are at home and 23 are on the road, which equates to 47.7 percent of their games taking place at the friendly confines of Tropicana Field — where Tampa is 38-22. Of the Orioles’ 42 remaining games, 23 are at home and 19 are on the road, which means that 54.8 percent of their remaining games will be at Camden Yards — where Baltimore is 33-25. Making the Rays’ road slate even more difficult is that they have to travel out West for a 10-game swing starting on Aug. 30.
If you believe in home-field advantage, particularly in September and October, then the clear advantage in that department belongs to the Orioles.
Not only will the Rays log more mileage, but they’ll do so with fewer off days. The Rays have two days off — Aug. 22 and Sept. 9 — the rest of the season. They were scheduled to have Aug. 26 off as well, but they’ll instead be making up a game in Kansas City that day. The Orioles, meanwhile, have four days off, which should enable them to align their pitching staff appropriately and get some extra rest before the sprint to the finish.
The Orioles also have the benefit of playing the Red Sox nine more times, including three games to close out the regular season. The Rays only play the Sox three more times. This could work against the O’s in that it makes their schedule more difficult, but most teams looking to make up ground would prefer to play the teams that they’re chasing. The Orioles and Rays will square off seven more times before the end of the season, with three coming in Baltimore and four coming in Tampa.
Both the Rays and Orioles have some issues to work out, as we’ve seen by Tampa’s six-game skid before Wednesday and Baltimore’s current three-game slide. But then again, who doesn’t have issues this time of year?
The Rays’ starting pitching has been inconsistent, especially with Matt Moore sidelined, the bullpen has been atrocious at times and the offense has had some hiccups of late. The Orioles, meanwhile, have similar pitching problems, and new acquisitions Scott Feldman and Bud Norris remain wild cards heading down the stretch.
The Orioles prided themselves on having a strong bullpen last season, and it enabled them to dominate one-run games. This season has been a different story, as the O’s are 14-21 in games decided by one run, whereas the Rays are 18-17 in one-run tilts. This could ultimately be the difference down the stretch, and if so, the Orioles have no one to blame but themselves.
The Rays remain a major threat to the Red Sox, and they’re currently in good shape in the wild card standings. But there’s a lot of baseball left, and the stars are perfectly aligned for the Orioles to make life difficult.
The ball is in Baltimore’s court.