The top of the American League East right now looks a bit different than most people thought it would at the start of the season. The New York Yankees have sunk to the bottom, bunched together with the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays, while the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles
No, you didn’t misread that. The Orioles are now tied with the Rays for first place in the AL East.
Which means their upcoming series against each other, which starts Thursday and lasts four games, is a battle for that top spot.
No one was necessarily expecting that, not at the start of the season and likely not now, around 100 games in. The Rays began the season red hot, winning their first 13 games and tying the record for most consecutive wins to start a season. They then proceeded to go 29-7 through the first five weeks of the season, winning at least five more games than any other MLB team. This caused a number of people to declare the AL pennant race already over with barely 20% of the games played. But since the MLB season doesn’t end after 36 games, they played on, and since then have a thoroughly mediocre 31-32 record.
As opposed to the Rays, the Orioles weren’t projected to be major contenders this season. Last year they surprised a lot of people (perhaps including themselves) by outperforming their projections and staying competitive in the wild-card race through most of the summer. But very few expected they’d take such a giant step forward in 2023, and even fewer likely expected them to be this consistent. The O’s had a rocky start to 2023, going 8-7 through their first 15 games, but they found their groove after that, going 50-30. They took over second place on April 19 and haven’t let it go since.
Until Wednesday, that is, when they beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-5 and moved into a first-place tie with the Rays.
The timing of that, and of this series, couldn’t be more perfect or more impactful. One of these teams could start next week, the week before the trade deadline, four games ahead of the second place team. Either the Orioles or the Rays could sweep the series and be in that fabulous position. (However the Orioles haven’t been swept in a mind-boggling 70 straight series, which is an incredible stat.) These teams could also go 3-1 and still have a nice cushion, or even 2-2 and remain just as they are.
The momentum of these teams coming into this series couldn’t be more different. The Orioles are 10-5 in July, and despite losing two of three to the Dodgers this week, they’ve won eight of their last 10 games (and don’t forget, they just moved into first place). The Rays, on the other hand, are 3-11 in July, started the month with a seven-game losing streak, and will come into the Orioles series with a four-game losing streak. Oh, and they just lost sole possession of first place.
All these stats and storylines are on a collision course, and they’re set to clash starting Thursday, July 20 at 6:40 p.m. ET when Orioles pitcher Kyle Gibson and Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow face off at Tropicana Field. By Monday, the AL East could look very different.
Source: Yahoo Sports