O's have AL East matchups to hurdle in final stretch

O's have AL East matchups to hurdle in final stretch

As the Baltimore Orioles prepare for the notion that they could be in the postseason for the first time in 15 years -- with the organization sending out invoices to season-ticket holders starting Thursday -- the question remains: do they have the staying power to be there at the end of the season?

Coming off Wednesday's loss in Texas -- representing the O's first series loss since July 27-29 -- Baltimore has 38 regular-season games remaining, 28 of which are against American League East teams. The Orioles (67-57) are coming off a 3-3 road trip, and they have won 10 of their past 16 games, with series wins over Detroit, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Boston over that span.

Baseball's additional Wild Cards give Baltimore a better chance to make the playoffs, but it also places a premium on winning a division title. Division winners will get at least two days of rest before the start of the Division Series, while the Wild Card teams will square off in an elimination game and likely have to use their best pitcher.

The Orioles entered Thursday a half-game behind the Rays and A's in the AL Wild Card race, and they remain five games behind the AL East-leading Yankees.

With that in mind, here's a closer look at what's ahead the next 6 1/2 weeks as the O's try to continue their surprising run into the postseason.

Toronto Blue Jays
The Orioles are 5-4 against the Jays so far this year and have more games left against them than any other opponent. Six of the two teams' remaining nine contests are in Baltimore -- including Friday's opener of a three-game set -- which is welcome news, considering how the O's have struggled to play well in Toronto.

This weekend's series will bring in a Blue Jays team struggling with injury and underperformance, with Wednesday's loss marking the sixth consecutive game Toronto has been held to three runs or fewer, and the 18th in the club's past 23 games. Enter slugger Jose Bautista, who is expected to be back from a sprained left wrist on Friday, and it could get interesting. The Orioles will travel to Rogers Centre at the beginning of September before hosting the Blue Jays one final time later next month.

Chicago White Sox
The Orioles have 20 of their remaining games at Camden Yards -- where they've gone 32-29 -- and they'll host the White Sox for a four-game set that starts Monday. Chicago entered Thursday with a two-game lead in the AL Central over Detroit, and is fresh off a series sweep of the Yankees. The O's took three of four in the only other previous meeting with the White Sox this season, posting a series win in the mid-April matchup.

New York Yankees
The Yanks are the team everyone is chasing in the AL East, and the Orioles have held their own against the Bronx Bombers this year. The O's are 5-6 in the season series, with four of those wins coming in New York. The clubs last met for a series in late July, and Baltimore took two of three, including a game in which it was down 5-0 and rallied for 11 unanswered runs.

The two teams have seven games left against each other, four of which are in Baltimore, where the Orioles have yet to win a series against their divisional foes. The Yankees swept the O's in a three-game set in April, and the two teams split a two-game series after that. While they will be big games for the standings, given how close both the division and Wild Card races have been, it probably won't make or break either club's chances, with their final meeting coming Sept. 9.

Oakland Athletics
Could you have seen this coming? A mid-September matchup between the Orioles and the A's will be a must-watch around baseball and will be one of the bigger series for the O's, who will head out west with less than 20 games remaining.

An A's team with as much spunk as the Orioles catapulted into the Wild Card chase with a strong second half, and the teams will play three games in Oakland to close out the season series from Sept. 14-16. Baltimore has gone 3-3 in the six previous games -- all at home -- against the A's.

Seattle Mariners
The Orioles will head from Oakland to Seattle to play a Mariners team they've fared very well against, going 5-1 in their previous six meetings. Still, Seattle has been arguably the AL's best team since the break, and it will look to play spoiler for a set that goes Sept. 17-19.

The O's have had some great pitching performances at Safeco Field, and they should have Jason Hammel, their best starter, back to help strengthen the starting rotation.

Boston Red Sox
Of all their AL East opponents, the Orioles have owned the Red Sox, going 8-4 against Boston and outscoring them 63-51 in the process. They have six remaining games -- three at home -- and the clubs will square off in September under decidedly different circumstances than a year ago.

This time around, it's the O's trying to fight for a playoff spot and a Red Sox club doing everything in its power to keep that from happening. The two teams have a habit of playing extra-inning games and creating out-of-the-ordinary -- Chris Davis pitching? -- outcomes, and the two remaining series will provide plenty of intrigue. Boston will be in town for Baltimore's final three home games this season on Sept. 28-30.

Tampa Bay Rays
Despite allowing the Rays 10 more runs, the two clubs are 6-6 on the season series. Tampa Bay is flying high with the return of third baseman Evan Longoria, and its pitching staff has been particularly formidable all season long. Barring injury, it will be again in the two September series, with the 2012 regular season drawing to a close with three games at Tropicana Field. The Orioles took two of three during their last visit to St. Petersburg, and they will try to pull off similar magic to avoid having Oct. 3 be the end of their season.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.