Entering their most recent series with the Boston Red Sox three weeks ago, the Baltimore Orioles still had a very reasonable chance to catch them for the AL East title.
That's no longer the case.
The rolling Red Sox can officially eliminate the Orioles from the division race Tuesday night at Fenway Park in the first of six meetings over the final two weeks of the regular season.
While a wild-card spot is very much within reach, Baltimore (79-70) will no longer have a shot at the East crown with one more loss or one Boston victory. The Orioles were within 5 1/2 games when they headed to Fenway on Aug. 27, but that deficit has since jumped to 12.
Boston (92-59) won two of three in that series as part of its current 17-4 stretch to all but wrap up the division. The Red Sox eliminated the Yankees with a three-game sweep over the weekend.
"We want to win every game," catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia said. "We never settle for what (the lead) is. It's 'Go for the next one.'"
Last month's trip to Boston began a stretch in which Baltimore lost four of five series before winning two of three at Toronto over the weekend.
"It's big," reliever Tommy Hunter told the Orioles' official website. "It takes us into that Boston series with a series victory. We have quite a task ahead of us. We're looking forward to it."
Baltimore has not scored more than three runs in five straight games against Boston, losing four, but leads the season series 7-6. The teams close the season with three games at Camden Yards.
While the Orioles have lost 11 of 20, the Red Sox have the majors' best record since Aug. 24 and are averaging 8.3 runs in their last 11 games.
"We're doing everything," said David Ortiz, 6 for 14 with four RBIs over the past four games. "We're pitching well, we're playing good defense, we're hitting. Hopefully it continues like that."
Things aren't going as well for the Orioles, who haven't scored more than five runs in 13 consecutive games while hitting .200 with runners in scoring position.
In those situations, Manny Machado is batting .188 this month and Nick Markakis is 1 for his last 15. Adam Jones has gone a season high-tying six consecutive games without an RBI.
"There's a lot of fight in here," infielder Danny Valencia said. "We know what we are capable of doing and what we are playing for."
His club now faces Ryan Dempster, whose 2.01 lifetime ERA against the Orioles is easily his lowest against any AL opponent. He's 1-1 in three matchups this season with a 2.50 ERA.
J.J. Hardy is 3 for 32 against him, Matt Wieters is 1 for 10 and Chris Davis is 2 for 11 with six strikeouts but did hit one of his major league-best 50 homers off Dempster (8-9, 4.70 ERA).
The right-hander has surrendered a team-high 25 homers but didn't allow one Wednesday, when he yielded one run in five innings despite five walks in a 7-3, 10-inning win at Tampa Bay. Boston has won nine of Dempster's past 10 starts despite his 5.98 ERA.
He'll be opposed by Scott Feldman (5-4, 3.62), who is 3-1 with a 1.77 ERA over his last six.
His lone outing against Boston this year was among his worst, giving up four runs in five innings of a 7-3 defeat July 27. In his only start at Fenway, Feldman allowed a career-worst 12 runs - six earned - in 2 2-3 innings of a 19-17 loss Aug. 12, 2008, while with Texas.
Mike Napoli, who homered Sunday, is 11 for 26 with two homers against Feldman. Ortiz has homered twice in seven at_bats against him.
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