COMMENTARY | The baseball season is a grind. Players develop routines, try to avoid getting too high or too low, and need to show up every day ready to play, no matter the opponent or yesterday's result.
Still, there are generally portions of any team's schedule that are more difficult than others, and portions where you need to make your move. This is especially true in the American League East, where every team in the division can create a headache.
The Tampa Bay Rays have made a push in the standings recently, inching their way into second place after some tough stretches earlier in the year. The reason? Sure, the Rays are playing better ball, but don't ignore the fact that their current seven-game winning streak has come entirely against bad teams, including the last-place White Sox and the only slightly less bad Minnesota Twins. Next up for the Rays is the worst-of-all Houston Astros, against whom they started their current streak, so this was a time when the Rays absolutely had to make a run if they wanted to play baseball in October.
The Baltimore Orioles, who today find themselves in third place in the East, two games behind the Rays and the coveted second spot in the Wild Card race, have a similar piece of their schedule coming up in late July and early August. Beginning July 30, the O's play 13 of 17 games against teams that currently have losing records. The stretch starts with the Astros and Mariners at home, includes an eight-game West Coast trip against the Padres, Diamondbacks and Giants, and concludes with a three-game set at home against the Rockies.
Of the six teams in that portion of their schedule, the O's only face one, the D-backs, with a winning record. Yes, they are all major league teams and are thus capable of beating you on any given afternoon or evening, but if the Orioles are to make a move in the standings at any point this season, this would seem to be the stretch that offers the most hope.
After the Rockies series in mid-August, the Orioles finish their schedule playing 29 of 39 against the AL East, including the last 20 in a row. Realistically, it's hard to expect the team to go on any kind of extended winning streak against that kind of competition.
Will the Orioles be able to capitalize on the softer part of their schedule the way the Rays have? Only time will tell. But if the team hopes to make it to the playoffs this year, a 12-5 record during that stretch would go a long way to helping them achieve that goal.
You have to beat the teams you're supposed to beat if you want to come out near the top after 162 games. When looking at the O's remaining schedule, there's a 17-game calm before the storm that will be their best opportunity to get on a roll heading into a grueling stretch run.
Joe Cooney has been a professional baseball writer for nearly 20 years, covering the Orioles, Rockies, Cubs and more. He grew up and still lives near Baltimore, Md.
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