(Photo credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports)
The last time the Baltimore Orioles played at Camden Yards was the day they clinched an American League playoff spot.
Now they open a six-game homestand against the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox with a bigger prize in mind. Baltimore's magic number to clinch the AL East over the Tampa Bay Rays is down to three.
That would assure them the top seed in the AL playoffs, which includes a bye in the divisional round and home-field advantage through the league championship series.
"Any time you inch closer, you're getting excited," said Kyle Gibson, the winning pitcher against the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday. "This is a team that's really looking forward to it. And I think if we just keep taking care of business, there will be a whole lot of fun here coming up."
Baltimore (97-59) last won the East in 2014 and their 97 wins is the most since the 1997 team won 98.
The Orioles send right-hander Kyle Bradish (11-7, 3.01 ERA) against the Nationals in the opener of a two-game series on Tuesday.
Bradish has allowed two earned runs or fewer in seven of his past eight starts and the Orioles are 6-2 in those games. Last time out Bradish tossed six shutout innings against the Astros in a game Baltimore lost 2-1.
He tossed six shutout innings in beating the Nationals on April 19.
Washington (69-88) closed out its home schedule with a doubleheader split against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday. The Nationals haven't yet announced a starting pitcher for Tuesday's game.
The Nationals went 21-15 over their final 36 home games. Their 69 wins are 14 more than their 2022 total with five games remaining, albeit against the Orioles and the Atlanta Braves. The Nationals are looking at a fourth-straight last-place finish in the NL East.
"Nobody wants to aim to win 70 games in a season. We want to win 97 games in the season. So that's our goal. That's always been our goal," general manager Mike Rizzo said recently. "But this is a good step in the right direction to that. I'm really excited about what's coming down the pike and the players that are going to be the next core group of the championship team that plays in National Park."
The Nationals saw growth from a number of players being counted on for the team to return to contention, including shortstop CJ Abrams, pitchers Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore, and catcher Keibert Ruiz.
Outfielder Lane Thomas, who Washington opted to keep at the trade deadline, continued his breakout season. Thomas stole his 20th base of the season Sunday, making him Washington's first player with 20 homers and 20 steals since Bryce Harper in 2016.
And rookie Jackson Rutledge tossed five innings of one-run baseball Sunday against the Braves to earn his first career big-league win.
Baltimore ended a streak of 17 straight days with a game in a 5-1 win on Sunday. They won nine of those games and finished with a 4-3 road trip.
Adley Rutschman doubled twice and walked twice Sunday to extend his hitting streak to eight games during which he is 14-for-31 (.452).
"We had a good win today," Rutschman said Sunday. "Right now, we're just trying to take care of business, take everything day-by-day, and I'm really happy with how we played today."
- Field Level Media