(Photo credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports)
The Baltimore Orioles can clinch the American League East when they host the Boston Red Sox in the opener of a four-game series Thursday night.
The Orioles reduced their magic number to one with a 5-1 defeat of the visiting Washington Nationals on Wednesday. The second-place Tampa Bay Rays blanked the Red Sox 5-0 on Wednesday to keep alive their slim hopes of winning the division.
The Rays (97-62) are off on Thursday, while the Orioles (99-59) can lock up the division with a win against a Boston team that has lost 10 of 12.
"It's very exciting," Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde said after the Wednesday win. "We're looking forward to coming to the ballpark tomorrow, and hopefully we can do something special tomorrow."
Clinching the AL East would also secure the top seed in the AL playoffs and home-field advantage through the American League Championship Series.
Right-hander Dean Kremer (12-5, 4.25 ERA) will get the ball for Baltimore on Thursday. Left-hander Chris Sale (6-4, 4.42) will start for Boston.
Kremer is 0-0 with a 6.39 ERA in his past three starts with 10 strikeouts and eight walks in 12 2/3 innings. Last time out, he allowed six runs -- three earned -- in 3 1/3 innings during a loss to the Cleveland Guardians on Friday.
"I felt OK," Kremer said after his third-shortest outing of the season. "I was a little erratic there throughout parts of innings. Balls found the grass."
In seven career starts vs. the Red Sox, Kremer is 1-4 with a 7.52 ERA. He has struggled against Boston this year, going 0-2 with a 9.35 ERA in two starts.
Sale is 1-1 with a 3.15 ERA over his past four starts. In his latest outing, he threw five scoreless innings in a no-decision against the Chicago White Sox on Friday. He struck out seven, walked one and gave up three hits.
After missing more than two months in the middle of the season with a stress reaction in his left shoulder, Sale appears to have regained his form as he prepares to make his 20th start of the season.
"It's just one of those things of building up," Sale said after his latest effort. "Had some things to take care of over the last few weeks. Obviously, it's been a step in the right direction last week and with this one, too, so just try to maintain that and keep putting up zeros."
Adley Rutschman homered and drove in three runs in the Orioles' victory over Washington on Wednesday.
"It was good to get the win today, but tomorrow's a new day, got to go out and get it," Rutschman said postgame. "Everyone's excited, but tomorrow, just the same thing as it always is. Another game, keep going with the process."
The Red Sox (76-82) were unable to play the spoiler role against Tampa Bay, getting swept in the two-game set. The loss on Wednesday guaranteed Boston will post its third losing season in four years.
Third baseman Rafael Devers sat out the team's final 2023 home game.
"He's battled through a few things," Boston manager Alex Cora said. "We'll see where he's at in Baltimore. ... Last game (at home), and obviously making a commitment with his contract. Kind of like, at least play a few innings. But we've got to be smart, too. So, we'll see how he feels (Thursday) and then we'll go over the weekend."
Cora said Wednesday he intends to return in 2024, the final year of his contract.
--Field Level Media