With the Yankees and the Orioles locked atop the East with identical records, the division crown has come down to the final 3 games of the season. Once holding a 10 game lead in the division, the Baltimore Orioles, who nearly everybody besides Buck Showalter himself believed would fade as the season wore on, have simply not stopped winning, making the Yankees pay everytime they stumbled since the All-Star break. Making this race even better, both teams have picked up their play down the stretch, trading win for win in September. Now, it all comes down to 3 games, 4 even, if necessary*
The Yankees have the pleasure of finishing up at home against the Boston Red Sox, a team who, at this point, would be content with defining their season by spoiling the Bombers' hopes in front of a Yankee Stadium crowd. Boston played their 'B' lineup against the Orioles this weekend (although it's tough to figure out what their 'A' lineup is supposed to be at this point,) and realigned their starting rotation so that their best three will be going up against the Yankees starting on Monday (Bucholtz, Lester and Matsuzaka.) Simply put, they've made no secret of the fact that they would love to see the Yankees lose the division at their hands, just as they lost their playoff spot in Camden Yards one year ago.
Despite Boston's intent on playing spoiler, the Orioles arguably have the tougher task. They will be traveling to Tampa to take on a Rays team that has not yet bid farewell to their playoff hopes. As of now, one of the two wild card teams will be the Yankees or the Orioles, who will most likely be joined by the Oakland Athletics. The Rays, however, are 3 games behind the A's for that 2nd spot. Now's the part where you're going to need to stay with me:
The A's are playing the Rangers tonight in a series that will determine who wins the AL West. The Rangers, up just 2 games in the division, are most certainly playing for something. The Rays need the Rangers to sweep, and the Rays need to sweep to sneak into that 2nd spot. A tall order, for sure, but it all begins with one game, and that's tonight. As we saw last season, the Rays will be fighting until the end.
If the Yankees and Orioles are still tied at the conclusion of their respective series' on Wednesday night, the first tiebreaker is their head to head record. What's their head to head record? You guessed it, 9-9. The next tiebreaker as we move down the list is their divisional record. The Orioles hold that one by a couple of games, but that does not mean they would be crowned the AL East champion. It simply means that before the one game playoff between the 2 wild card spots, the Yankees and Orioles would play 1 game to determine the winner of the East. That game, due to the tiebreaker, would be played in Camden Yards. Two 1-game playoffs before the typical 5-game series' even begin? I may be a Yankees fan, but seeing the bigger picture for baseball, that's a dream scenario for a game that's often accused of not having enough excitement.
And so I tip my cap to the O's for making this one more than interesting. As baseball fans we couldn't have asked for anything more out of the final week of the regular season.