The Baltimore Orioles have had a wonderful regular season, and they have a chance to go to the World Series if they can dominate the American League playoffs.
With just over a week to go in the regular season, Baltimore is in first place in the American League East. If they can hold off the Tampa Bay Rays and retain that position it would be ideal for manager Brandon Hyde's team.
However, the Rays are not about to give in to the Orioles and they will continue to fight back in the season's final days. Tampa Bay was the dominant team in the American League through the first half of the season, but they lost the division lead when they slumped in July and the Orioles surged.
The Orioles have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Rays after Tampa Bay registered a come-from-behind win over the Los Angeles Angels and the Orioles lost to the Guardians, so a change at the top of the standings would represent a brutal scenario for the Orioles.
That would put them in the position of hosting the No. 5 seed in the best-of-3 round, with all games in Baltimore. While playing at Camden Yards is clearly an advantage, they might have the toughest time facing the Texas Rangers
Orioles and Rangers split regular season series
The Orioles and Rangers split 6 regular season games, with the Orioles taking 2 of 3 games early in the season on the road, and the Rangers returning the favor by beating the Birds in 2 of 3 games at Camden Yards in late May.
The Rangers outscored the Orioles 26-19 over the 6 games, and Baltimore clearly was challenged quite a bit by the Texas lineup.
On the other hand, if the Orioles play the Blue Jays or the Mariners, they had an advantage over both of those teams. Baltimore dominated the regular-season series 10-3 over their American League East rivals, and they had a 4-2 edge on the Mariners
The Rangers have had some issues with their pitching over the second half of the season, but they are an excellent offensive team. They are led by Adolis Garcia, who has pounded 35 home runs and driven in 102 runs. He is joined by Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, who have hammered 31 and 25 home runs respectively.
Catcher Jonah Heim is one of the best offensive players at his position with 18 home runs and 90 RBI, and rookie Josh Jung has done a wonderful job with 23 home runs and 70 RBI despite being injured throughout much of the second half of the season.
The Orioles would need their pitching to be on point to slow down the Texas attack.
Meeting the rested Rays in the Divisional playoffs would be a major challenge
As it stands now, the Orioles would be the rested team with the home field advantage in the second round. In the worst case, the Rays would be fresh and host 4 games in the best-of-7 series.
The Orioles won the season series over the Rays by an 8-5 margin, but the Rays are a fearless bunch that would not lack for confidence.
The Rays are a powerful group at the plate, with 5 hitters who have belted 20 or more home runs in the regular starting lineup. Those players include Isaac Paredes with 29, Jose Siri with 25, Randy Arozarena with 23 blasts, Brandon Lowe with 21 and Yandy Diaz with 20.
The Orioles certainly don't have to take a back seat to the Rays in terms of power, as Anthony Santander and Gunnar Henderson lead the way with 27 home runs, while Adley Rutschman has 19, Ryan Mountcastle has 18 and Austin Hays has 16
AL championship series vs. Astros and World Series vs. Braves
The toughest opponent would be against the defending World Series champion Astros. Houston was chasing Texas for the majority of the season in the American League West, but the Astros hit their stride at the same time the Rangers slumped.
Houston's lineup would appear to be the toughest to face because of their World Series pedigree, and stars like Yordan Alvarez, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker would be very dangerous to face when the game is on the line.
The two teams split the season series 3-3.
If the Orioles survive the American League playoffs, facing the Atlanta Braves in the World Series would be the most challenging situation. The Braves have been the best team in baseball throughout the regular season, and they have a formidable power-hitting lineup.
Atlanta won the limited season series over the Orioles by a 2-1 margin. The Braves have a 2 1/2-game lead on the Orioles with 10 games to go in the season. If the Orioles don't overtake the Braves, Atlanta would have home field advantage in the World Series.