There is no such think as a “must win game” unless a loss would eliminate the team from the playoffs, or playoff contention. Instead, there are several key games throughout the length of the season and today’s game is one of them. A win gives the O’s a split with the Twins and a bit of a mental boost heading into a tricky four game series against the Cleveland Indians.
However, a loss this afternoon and the O’s will have won exactly one of their last six series, a road win over the Seattle Mariners during the July 4th week. They are currently sitting a half-game out of the race for the second Wild Card behind the Detroit Tigers and are a whopping 10-games back of the New York Yankees in the no longer close American League East. More important than all of that though could be the fact they only hold a half-game lead over the Boston Red Sox for second place in the East.
Looking at all those factors, it is probably clear to you that winning against Minnesota today isn’t just important, it is almost an imperative. All year one of the biggest questions in baseball has been about whether the Orioles are for real or not and just weeks ago there was heavy discussion about whether Baltimore should be buyers at the trade deadline. Now, because of the losing, everything is in flux. The O’s look a little like frauds wh0 can’t hit, can’t pitch and can’t string wins together and again look like a potential seller at the deadline.
A win against the Twins to split could change it all. Winning today is an important step to righting the ship and getting the team at least somewhat back on course. Perhaps they aren’t the runaway AL East Champs people believed they were in May or early June, but there is no reason this team cannot be at least competitive, if not a Wild Card team. In order to achieve those goals though, they have got to win on Thursday, otherwise every loss after it will not only move them closer to a below .500 record, but to a position where there is again a season of no-hope.
Baltimore may be a perfectly flawed team, which many think is an oxymoron, but they may have the right types of flaws to allow them to overcome their biggest obstacles. They don’t have a top lineup, but pretty everyone can hit for power, have a flawed pitching staff, but a bullpen that has been solid most of the year and all together a team suited to hang with the big boys, but not necessarily beat them.
Keep in mind, heading into the season the goal was never to beat the big boys, but rather carve a path back to baseball relevance. So far, they have begun to do that, but the team has reached a fork in the road with one path leading them towards eventually success and the other leading back to where they started before Spring Training. If they want to press on down the path they have been on, to a return to relevance, they have to show the fans and the rest world that despite a series opening loss to start the second half, they are not going to go quietly by dropping the first two.
Obviously there is a lot of baseball left, so there is no way to call Thursday’s game a must win. Looking at it though, you can see it is one the Orioles might have to win in order to keep their heads above water. If they can’t win, especially with one of their best pitchers in Wei-Yin Chen on the mound, it could mark the point in the year when the team enters full slide mode.