The Orioles are still in the mix for an American League Wild Card spot. If they're going to gain ground in that race over the next week, they're going to have to earn it.
After Monday's off-day, Baltimore will begin a stretch of 13 consecutive games to end the season. The next seven come on the road against AL East rivals Boston and Tampa Bay, both of which would be playoff-bound if the postseason began now. That rough road for the Orioles begins Tuesday night at Fenway Park, where Scott Feldman will square off against Ryan Dempster and the Red Sox.
"It's big," O's reliever Tommy Hunter said of his club winning two of three against the Blue Jays over the weekend. "It takes us into that Boston series with a series victory. We have quite a task ahead of us. We're looking forward to it."
While Baltimore rebounded after dropping three of four games vs. New York by winning its series in Toronto, Boston has rolled through just about everyone in its path lately.
The Red Sox finished off a three-game sweep of the Yankees on Sunday, delivering a significant blow to their rival's playoff hopes. Now, they will look to do the same to another divisional foe, all while moving another step closer to clinching a division title. With a victory and an Indians loss to the Royals tonight, the Sox would clinch at least a Wild Card berth -- the first club to claim a spot in the postseason.
Overall, Boston has won five of its past six games, 10 of its last 12 and 17 of 21. That streak has put the Sox in an ideal position down the stretch, with a magic number of four to clinch the AL East entering play Monday.
The Red Sox will send Dempster to the mound hoping he'll pitch deep into the game, which has been an issue for him recently. The 36-year-old right-hander has completed seven innings only once since June 14, but he pitched effectively Wednesday against the Rays, offsetting five walks with seven strikeouts and allowing only one run on four hits over five innings.
Feldman, meanwhile, hasn't had any trouble pitching deep into games, as he's gone seven or more innings in three consecutive starts. The right-hander followed up a shutout against the White Sox on Sept. 6 by allowing three runs over 7 2/3 innings Wednesday against the Yankees, though he didn't receive a decision in that outing.
"I think that when you know where the ball is going, you can get some quicker outs that way," Feldman said Wednesday. "You can stay in the game a little longer."
Orioles: Hitting with RISP proving problematic
Baltimore left Toronto on Sunday with a 3-1 victory and a series win, but also with familiar questions about the club's recent inability to hit with runners in scoring position. The Orioles went 1-for-8 in those situations Sunday, making them 37-for-171 (.216) over their last 22 games. Baltimore has gone 10-12 during that stretch.
"It's not like all year we've been bad. Comparatively speaking in the Major Leagues, we're close to the top," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But I know it's, 'What have you done for me lately?' I, as a manager, can't live in that world. You will lose guys in a heartbeat in that 'What have you done for me lately' world. It doesn't mean there's not a sense of urgency with it."
Red Sox: Farrell taking advantage of sizable division lead
With his club having opened up a comfortable lead in the AL East for the time being, Red Sox manager John Farrell said he plans to use the final two weeks of the season to make sure his players are healthy and well-rested entering the postseason.
Most recently, that meant holding Shane Victorino out of the starting lineup on Sunday for the second time in four games. Even with an off-day on Monday and two more next week, Farrell will still likely mix-and-match his lineups down stretch to get extra rest days for his players.
"We've got a number of guys that are dealing with some minor things that they're banged up with," Farrell said prior to Sunday's victory. "We'll try to take advantage not only of getting another left-hander in the lineup [Sunday] against [Yankees starter Ivan] Nova, but [Monday] being an off-day, we may look at some things Tuesday and beyond to try to get some guys off their feet a little bit."
• Sixteen of the Orioles' last 21 games have been decided by two or fewer runs (6-10 record), including eight one-run games (2-6).
• The Red Sox have now won at least 90 games in nine of the last 12 seasons, and in 11 of 16 years since 1998. During that stretch, only the Yankees have more 90-win seasons (13).
• The Orioles have gone 16-28 this season in one-run games, but own a 19-9 record in two-run contests. The Red Sox, meanwhile, are 21-18 in one-run games while going 14-13 in two-run affairs.
• Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is just 3-for-32 (.094) with seven strikeouts in his career against Dempster.
• Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli is 11-for-26 (.423) with two home runs and six RBIs lifetime against Feldman.