While the Washington Nationals’ MLB best 98-win season has certainly been unprecedented, just 40 miles up 495 the Baltimore Orioles are accomplishing a similarly unexpected feat.
The Birds clinched their first playoff birth since 1997 Sunday after a 6-3 win over Boston, along with the Anaheim’s 8-7 loss to the Texas Rangers in the second game of a double header.
Baltimore has lingered amongst the basement of the American League East for years, angering fans who continually pointed the finger at unpopular Majority Owner Peter Angelos. However, after a dismal start in the spring of 2010, the Orioles hired Buck Showalter to replace then manager Dave Trembley, and the move certainly seems to have paid off. The team went 69-93 in 2011, but showed true promise. Most notably, on the final day of the 2011 season the Birds eliminated the Boston Red Sox from playoff contention.
With higher expectations from Showalter in 2012, the Orioles went on to win 93 games this year and finish just two games behind the New York Yankees for the American League East division title. More remarkably, the O’s shocked the baseball world by qualifying for the one game American League wildcard playoff against the Texas Rangers, an accomplishment truly out of left field. Texas held first place in the American League central until Monday evening when they lost two straight to Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics.
The Orioles and Rangers are set to square off on Friday night, and neither manager has announced their starting pitcher for the game. However, what makes this game interesting is that every team is allowed to reset their 25-man roster before every round of the playoffs. Because the one game wildcard playoff is a playoff “round” the managers may adjust their rosters to accommodate for just one game. It is expected that Showalter will opt to keep only two or three starting pitchers active, giving him significantly more room for bench players to bring in for key match ups before the game.
Along with the Orioles and Rangers, the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals will also meet in a one game wildcard playoff Friday. St. Louis is attempting to defend their World Series title in their first year without superstar Albert Pujols. The Washington Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees, and Detroit Tigers are the other division winners that will join the wildcard bids in the playoffs.
Although it may only be one game, one thing is for sure. For the first time in a long time, there will be not one but two important baseball games occurring in the Baltimore-Washington area.
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