The Orioles have their eye on their first American League East title since 2014, and this week, they can improve their chances while also locking up a playoff spot for the first time in seven years.
Entering Friday, Baltimore’s magic number for a playoff spot is four, a number determined based on numerous tiebreakers and head-to-head matchups between the teams in the wild-card race. Effectively, there is no scenario the Orioles finish with 95 wins — four more than they have now — and miss the playoffs.
At the earliest, Baltimore can lock up a playoff spot Saturday, after the third game of a critical four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles lead the Rays by one game in the AL East after losing Thursday’s series opener.
Here’s a look at when and how the Orioles can clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2016.
Magic number explainer
First, let’s quickly explain the magic number. In a straight-up scenario, it’s determined by adding the number of wins of the team in the playoff spot to the number of losses of the first team out, then subtracting that sum from 163, or the number of games in the season plus one. In the case of the AL East, it’s 163 minus Orioles wins (91) plus Rays losses (57) to get a magic number of 15. Each Orioles win or Rays loss brings the number down by one each.
To figure out Baltimore’s magic number for a playoff spot, it’s more complicated. Simply using the Orioles’ 91 wins with the Toronto Blue Jays’ 67 losses mathematically results in a magic number of five. But even though the Blue Jays are 1 1/2 games out of a playoff spot after getting swept in a four-game series with the Texas Rangers, the Seattle Mariners and Rangers have seven games left between each other, meaning one of them will lose at least four more games. That means both of those teams factor in still, too.
In fact, there’s only one scenario in which a 94-win Orioles team misses the playoffs, which keeps Baltimore’s magic number from being three. It involves Toronto winning out and a tie atop the AL West among Texas, Seattle and the Houston Astros at 94-68, with subsequent tiebreakers keeping the Orioles out. It’s an immensely convoluted and unlikely outcome, but it exists, so it leaves the magic number at four.
How the Orioles can clinch Saturday
The Orioles winning their games with Tampa Bay are important to their hopes of winning the division. They also could help Baltimore clinch a playoff spot by Saturday.
Firstly, the Orioles must win their next two games against the Rays. A side note: Baltimore’s first win against Tampa Bay will drop its AL East magic number by three, based on an Orioles win, a Rays loss and Baltimore securing the head-to-head tiebreaker with its seventh win in the teams’ season series.
Beyond their own two wins, the Orioles will need help from elsewhere, with one of two outcomes putting Baltimore in the postseason. Either the Blue Jays could lose their next two games with the Boston Red Sox, or the Mariners and Rangers could combine for at least three losses over the next two days. Seattle begins a series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, while the Rangers play the Cleveland Guardians in a weekend set.
Regardless, Texas, Seattle or Toronto losing Friday will drop Baltimore’s magic number to three. The Orioles also winning would bring it to two.