Winning the AL East has been an almost foregone conclusion for weeks now for the Baltimore Orioles, but a title 17 years in the making would still make for a very memorable night at Camden Yards.
The Orioles can take the first step toward what they hope will be a long postseason road by clinching a division title Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays.Few could've predicted that the Orioles would follow their most recent AL East title in 1997 with 14 consecutive losing seasons. They finally ended that drought with 93 wins and a wild card in 2012 before failing to reach the playoffs with an 85-77 mark last year.After hovering around .500 for the first three months this season, Baltimore (90-60) headed into the All-Star break with 10 wins in 13 games and never looked back. The Orioles took over first place in the East for good July 5 and are 48-21 since June 30, trailing only the Los Angeles Angels for baseball's best record in that span.With Monday's 5-2 victory over Toronto, the Orioles reduced their magic number to one and won for the eighth time in nine games. Ryan Flaherty hit a two-run homer to back Wei-Yin Chen's 16th win and Baltimore improved to 41-23 against the East."It's pretty special to come in here (Tuesday) and have a chance to do that," manager Buck Showalter said. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of reasons, but tonight I look forward to losing that sleep. It's been a long, hard grind to have that opportunity, and I'm looking forward to the chance to see our guys get a chance."With their next five games at Camden Yards, the Orioles could clinch a division title at home for the first time since 1969."We'll enjoy tonight and then come out tomorrow and see what happens," catcher Caleb Joseph said. "If we don't win, then go back and strap it back on and win the next day."Wrapping up the division on their first attempt will be a big challenge for the Orioles with Drew Hutchison (10-11, 4.36 ERA) on the mound for the Blue Jays.The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in six career starts against Baltimore and has allowed only three runs over 27 2/3 innings while walking four and striking out 25 in four meetings this year.Hutchison has been especially tough on Nelson Cruz (2 for 15), Adam Jones (3 for 18) and J.J. Hardy (3 for 16).He improved to 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA in his last four starts with an 11-1 win over the Cubs on Wednesday. Hutchison matched a career high with 10 strikeouts and allowed one run and four hits over 6 1/3 innings.The Blue Jays (77-72) have lost three of four to further damage their already faint wild-card chances."We've got a very slim outside shot to get to the playoffs, but we're fighting every night to try to win games," manager John Gibbons said.With Friday's doubleheader forcing the Orioles to find an extra starter, Ubaldo Jimenez (4-9, 4.96) will make his first start in a month.Since he was removed from the rotation, the right-hander has only made three relief appearances since his last start Aug. 16. This will be his first game since allowing three runs and three walks while recording one out Aug. 31 in a 12-8 win over Minnesota.Jimenez is 0-2 with a 5.56 ERA in two starts this season against the Blue Jays. He's walked seven and surrendered three homers in 11 1/3 innings in those games.Colby Rasmus has one of those home runs and is 10 for 27 with five doubles in his career against Jimenez.