With two Wild Card spots available in each league, there's room in the playoffs for both the Orioles and Rays. But as six teams fight it out in a crowded American League race, they have plenty of competition.
Much is at stake over the next four days at Tropicana Field. As the Orioles and Rays begin their wraparound set on Friday night, Tampa Bay is tied with Texas for the two Wild Card berths, with Cleveland a half-game out and Baltimore two behind. Kansas City and the Yankees are on the periphery.
"I think we know what's going on with the Rays, and the fact that there's another Wild Card team out there makes things more interesting," Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. "This is definitely what they wanted when they threw in another Wild Card. But we just have to go out there every day and focus on the nine innings in front of us and that's helped us the last few days, just knowing we have to go out there and focus on nine innings."
Both teams are coming off losses. The Orioles failed to complete a sweep against the Red Sox, while the Rays wound up with a four-game split against the Rangers.
Tampa Bay saw just how fleeting the idea of momentum can be when it fell on Thursday, a day after an emotional 12-inning win. Nonetheless, left-hander David Price feels it's important for him to set the tone when he takes the ball against Baltimore's Jason Hammel on Friday.
"It's big. If they come in here and beat me up, that has them feeling good going against everybody else after me," Price said. "If I can come out here and throw the way I expect to, it might put a little doubt in their mind and give us some confidence. That's what we need. We need a head of steam. It's the team that's playing the best at the end of the year and we still have enough time to get hot. We just need to continue to play better."
Price (8-8, 3.42 ERA) is coming off his second straight solid outing on Sunday at Minnesota, where he gave up two runs over 6 1/3 innings. He has a 4.76 ERA in three starts against the Orioles this year.
"I feel good. My body feels very good right now," Price said. "I've had a good week of work leading up to [Friday]. Baltimore is a very tough team for me. They're playing for a chance to play in October. There's a lot on the line. They're going to play hard like they always do. It's going to be a tough series for us."
It's a familiar position for the Orioles, who captured a Wild Card spot last year, then beat the Rangers to advance to the AL Division Series.
"We're trying to win as many games as we can between now and the end of the month," manager Buck Showalter said. "If you're left standing at the end of the season, it's kind of like last year, we got into a situation where we'll rather get in than have our best pitcher pitch in the first game of the playoffs. That's pretty easy."
Showalter will turn to Hammel to lead off the series, as the righty makes his second start since July 28 after missing time with right flexor mass soreness in his arm. Hammel (7-8, 5.12), who is pitching on six days' rest, held Toronto to three runs on three hits over five innings last Friday, walking one and striking out two. He threw 62 pitches.
"I'm healthy. I feel good. I still feel like my arm can get stronger," Hammel said afterward. "I really didn't have too much of a building process to get back here. It's just nice to be pitching again and be able to get through five innings with 60-some pitches. I obviously wanted to go deeper, but they wanted to be smart about it."
Orioles: Faith in Gausman
Showalter brought rookie Kevin Gausman into a tie game on Wednesday against the Red Sox, and the 22-year-old responded with two perfect innings to help the Orioles win in 12. The appearance was indicative of both Gausman's recent effectiveness, and the bigger role he has carved out for himself.
Over four straight scoreless appearances, Gausman has allowed two baserunners and struck out eight. And big spots are nothing new for a guy who pitched at LSU.
"This time of year, stuff plays," Showalter said Wednesday. "He's pitched in some big venues. Until you go to a night SEC game on Friday night against rivals -- he's pitched with high expectations a lot in his career."
Rays: Odorizzi to join 'pen
Jake Odorizzi arrived in the Rays' clubhouse on Thursday, and the rookie right-hander is expected to be activated on Friday. Although four of Odorizzi's five appearances with Tampa Bay this year are starts, manager Joe Maddon said he will work out of the bullpen, at least initially.
Odorizzi has a 5.09 ERA over 23 innings with the Rays and posted a 3.33 mark in 22 starts at Triple-A Durham. In his last outing with the Rays, Odorizzi held the Angels to one run over five innings on Aug. 29.
"I like him. I think he has good makeup," Maddon said. "Fastball plays, good curveball, good slider. Everything plays. I just think it's a classic example of a guy understanding how to use his stuff more efficiently."
• The Rays have a 9-6 lead in the season series, but the teams have split six games at Tropicana Field.
• Hammel, who began his career with the Rays, has a 3.55 ERA in two starts at the Trop this year.