Whether it’s as AL East champions or a wild-card qualifier, the Baltimore Orioles are closing in on their first postseason berth in 15 years.
Again tied for the division lead, the Orioles conclude the home portion of their regular season schedule Sunday trying to complete a three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox.
Hours after the New York Yankees lost 3-2 at Toronto, rookie Manny Machado hit a tiebreaking homer in the seventh inning to help Baltimore (91-67) to a 4-3 win over Boston on Saturday. While the Orioles are tied with the Yankees atop the East standings, they also hold the top spot in the wild-card race by one game over Oakland.
Winners of three straight overall, the Orioles’ magic number to clinch their first playoff berth since 1997 is down to two with four games to play.
“We’re playing with house money,” Orioles slugger Mark Reynolds said. “We go out every night believing we’re going to win the game, no matter what the situation and no matter who we’re facing. It’s just fun to be a part of.”
Machado homered for the seventh time and Chris Davis added to his career total with his 30th as Baltimore improved to 28-9 in one-run games. While Machado is 6 for 11 with three home runs and six RBIs in the last three games, Davis is 5 for 11 with four homers and nine RBIs over the same stretch. Davis has never homered in four consecutive contests.
Scheduled Baltimore starter Joe Saunders (2-3, 3.62 ERA) is 0-2 in his last three starts but has a 3.10 ERA during that span. He allowed four runs and 11 hits in 6 1-3 innings of a 4-0 loss to Toronto on Tuesday.
The left-hander is 4-2 with a 4.45 ERA in 10 career regular season and playoff starts against the Red Sox, but has not faced them since 2010 while a member of the Los Angeles Angels.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s two-run homer was one of five hits Saturday for the Red Sox (69-89), who have dropped four in a row and eight of nine. Hoping to avoid its first 90-loss season since 1966, Boston has totaled eight runs and 17 hits during the four-game skid.
The Red Sox were last swept in a series at Camden Yards from April 30-May 2, 2010.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury went 1 for 4 on Saturday in his return after missing six games with an unspecified injury. Injuries have limited last season’s AL MVP runner-up to 71 games while batting .277 with four homers and 26 RBIs in 2012.
“He did not quite hit his stride this year,” manager Bobby Valentine said.
Ellsbury is a lifetime .313 (5 for 16) hitter versus Saunders.
Boston’s Zach Stewart (1-3, 7.91) makes his first appearance since being recalled from the minors Sept. 21. This will be his second outing since he was acquired by the Red Sox in a trade that sent Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox.
In his Boston debut Aug. 29, the right-hander allowed nine runs in three innings of a 10-3 loss to the Angels.
Stewart, 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA in two relief appearances against the Orioles this year, gave up two runs in seven innings while not factoring in the decision of a 4-3 loss in his only start versus Baltimore for Toronto on June 15, 2011.