(Photo credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)
The Baltimore Orioles can clinch their first playoff berth since 2016 when they host the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday in the finale of a four-game series.
Meanwhile, the Rays can clinch their fifth straight playoff berth.
The Orioles lowered their magic number to one and retook first place in theAmerican League East with an 8-0 win against the visiting Rays on Saturday.
Whichever team wins Sunday will clinch a playoff berth regardless of what happens elsewhere, though the division will remain undecided as the season enters its final two weeks.
"I think everybody knew that from the start," Tampa Bay second baseman Brandon Lowe said. "So, it's a great series and everything, but the division is not going to be decided here."
Baltimore rookie Grayson Rodriguez pitched eight shutout innings and fellow rookie Gunnar Henderson homered and drove in three runs on Saturday as the Orioles halted a four-game slide.
"This is what you dream of whenever you go through the minor leagues together, playing meaningful games in September," Henderson said of the performances of Rodriguez and himself.
After totaling six runs in four games, the Orioles (92-56) came to life. Henderson had three of Baltimore's 11 hits, including his 27th homer of the season as he continues to make a strong case for AL Rookie of the Year honors.
"What he's doing as a rookie's pretty amazing, really all year," Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said. "I've just been so impressed by him and his physical tools. How hard he plays, his mentality, how aggressive he is. ... For being 22 years old and playing on this type of stage in late September and playing for stuff, it's really fun to watch."
Baltimore clinched the season series (the Orioles lead 7-5 with one game remaining) against Tampa Bay and therefore owns the division tiebreaker.
Tampa Bay (92-58), which had won seven of eight games to surge into a tie for first place in the AL East, managed just five hits against two Oriole pitchers on Saturday.
"You can't dwell on any losses at this point," Lowe said. "Kind of seemed like even the baseball wanted the Orioles to win, just the way that outs came for them versus us. ... We lost, they won. We've got another big game on Sunday."
Luke Raley was scratched from the Rays' lineup after colliding with a team staff member while catching fly balls in the outfield before the game. He was available off the bench.
Baltimore right-hander Dean Kremer (12-5, 4.25 ERA) opposes Rays right-hander Zack Littell (3-6, 4.25) on Sunday.
Kremer is coming off one of his poorer efforts of the season. On Monday against the Cardinals, he allowed five runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. It was the first time he had allowed more than three runs since July 19.
Kremer, who is 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA in five starts against Tampa Bay in his career, pitched six scoreless innings in a win against the Rays on May 10.
Littell will be making his 26th appearance and 13th start this season. He allowed four runs over 15 innings in his past two starts yet the Rays lost both games by scores of 1-0 and 3-2. Littell, who is 0-0 with a 3.00 ERA in two career relief appearances against the Orioles, struck out 12 batters in those games and walked only one.
--Field Level Media