UPDATED (8:45 p.m.)—For 14 years, Baltimoreans have been conditioned to look forward to the NFL season once July hits.
Orioles fans have viewed September as a countdown.
The Orioles' September standing has been so irrelevant in recent years that we have to re-learn an art that has become foreign to all of us—scoreboard watching.
If you're just hopping back on the bandwagon, that's OK. Skepticism has become part of the tradition.
So for any of you still getting back into the swing of things, here's what you need to know as we enter the stretch run:
- MLB made some more room in 2012. Major League Baseball put in a second wild card this year, meaning there could be three teams from the loaded American League East to make the playoffs. There are teams from each of the league's three divisions currently in the race for a wild card spot. The Orioles won a wild card in 1996.
- Where they currently stand. The Orioles are one game out of first place in the division and have sole posession of the second wild card.
- The schedule. The Orioles are currently in Toronto for a three-game series. They host the Yankees for four games starting Thursday, before a day off next Monday. Tampa Bay comes to town next for a three-game series, before the Orioles take a west coast trip to Oakland and Seattle. Three games in Boston come at the tail end of that trip, followed a homestand against Toronto (four games) and Boston (three games). The Orioles finish the season with three games at Tampa Bay from Oct. 1-3.
- The players. The Orioles have about five teams to worry about when it comes to their hopes of making the postseason. I'll break those down below, in order of importance.
- The division is still in reach. In fact, the Orioles are just one game out of first place in the American League East after winning two-of-three in New York over the weekend. The Yankees visit Camden Yards for four games starting Thursday, offering the Orioles a chance to take the division lead. The Orioles last won the division in 1997—the last time they reached the playoffs.
- You can join in. Tickets are still available. Actually, lots of tickets are available. Only 47,035 came out for the four-game series against the White Sox last week—that's about what would pack the Yard for a single game in that 1992-1997 stretch.
OK, so we've set the scene for the stretch run.
Here's who you should be keeping track of, listed in order of their impact on the Orioles' chances:
- Yankees. The Orioles can win the division. The only team they need to worry about for that race at the current moment is the Yankees. They're aging, they have injuries and their rotation is so-so. They can be caught.
Games left vs. the O's: 4—in Baltimore
- Rays. Tampa Bay is just 1.5 games behind the Orioles entering Monday. They're in the rearview, but with that pitching staff, you can't forget about them. They're also right in the wildcard hunt.
Games left vs. the O's: 6—3 at home, 3 away
- Athletics. The A's are currently leading the wild card race, and the Orioles would do well to get ahead of them in the standings when it comes time to determine where that one-game playoff will be played.
Games left vs. the O's: 3—at Oakland
- Angels. OK, so the Angels are 3.5 games out in the wild card and would have some work to do to play catch-up. But the Angels are dangerous and the Orioles had a tough time with them in 2012 (going 2-7 against them). The Angels have seven games left with Oakland and could make up ground quickly.
Games left vs. the O's:: 0
- White Sox/Tigers. These two are battling it out for the central division title, and whoever doesn't win the pennant will have a strong shot at the wild card. The Tigers are probably a tougher matchup in a one-game playoff, with Justin Verlander in the fold. The Tigers swept three from Chicago this weekend and visit the White Sox for four next week.
Games left vs. the O's: 0
So there you have it—a quick crash course in preparing yourself to scoreboard watch.
The Orioles have three important games in Toronto to start the week. But the fun begins Thursday.
The Orioles host the Yankees for four of the most meaningful games Camden Yards will have seen in the past 14 years.
TELL US: Will you be attending any games for the stretch run? Who do you think is the Orioles' biggest threat? Leave a comment.