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 Wednesday, 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 Thursday, when they begin a critical four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles lead the Rays by three games in the AL East heading into Wednesday’s series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals.
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 Seattle Mariners’ or Toronto Blue Jays’ 65 losses mathematically results in a magic number of seven. But the Blue Jays are currently in a four-game series with the Texas Rangers, who are half a game up on both Seattle and Toronto. The Mariners and Rangers have seven games left between each other, meaning one of them will lose at least four more games.
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 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 Thursday
Likewise, there’s only one scenario in which the Orioles can clinch a playoff spot Thursday.
Firstly, they must win their next two games, beating Cardinals left-hander Drew Rom — one of three prospects they traded to St. Louis last month for starter Jack Flaherty — in Wednesday’s game before opening the Rays series with a victory. 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 the Mariners off Thursday, the only way Baltimore can clinch that day is if Seattle loses to the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday and the Rangers lose to the Blue Jays both Wednesday and Thursday. Either of those teams winning a game over the next two days leaves open the possibility of the aforementioned three-way tie atop the AL West that eventually results in the Orioles being the odd team out.
Regardless, either Seattle or Texas losing Wednesday will drop Baltimore’s magic number to three. The Orioles also winning would bring it to two.
How the Orioles can clinch Friday
The Orioles have already announced Camden Yards is sold out for Friday’s game, before which longtime center fielder Adam Jones will officially retire with Baltimore. The night would make perhaps the perfect setting to clinch.
Numerous outcomes can result in Baltimore clinching Friday. If the Orioles win the next two days while Texas and Seattle collectively win no more than two of their three games in that time, Baltimore would clinch Friday with a win against Tampa Bay regardless of what happens elsewhere. The only way the Orioles win Wednesday, Thursday and Friday without clinching is if Texas and Seattle do the same.
Even if the Orioles lose in front of a packed house or one of the two earlier games, Baltimore could ensure a playoff berth Friday if Texas and Seattle lose three of their combined five games in that span. The Mariners begin a series with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, while the Rangers play the Cleveland Guardians.
For the Orioles to clinch a playoff spot Friday while winning only one of their next three games, the Rangers must lose their next three games while Seattle loses its next two. Any other outcomes push clinching scenarios to the weekend.