The beautiful thing about the Orioles controlling their own destiny as they close in on winning the American League East is that at this point, it does not really matter what the Rays do. Even with Tampa Bay sweeping the Red Sox in their brief, two-game series at Fenway Park this week, the Orioles lowered their Magic Number to 1 by sweeping the Washington Nationals with wins of 1-0 and 5-1.
The only way that the Orioles will not win the East is if the Red Sox sweep them in the season-ending four game series at Camden Yards, and the Rays win all three of their final games in Toronto. And as a reminder, the Orioles have the third longest sweepless streak in baseball history.
With the two wins, the Orioles improved to 4-0 against Washington on the season. What a magical season it has been for the pride of Charm City, in a season where almost no one picked them to win the AL East. A lot of things had to go right for the Orioles to be in this position. A lot of things have gone right, and the Orioles can clinch the American League East on Thursday night with a win over the Red Sox.
Let's zoom in on a glorious sweep of the Nats.
Orioles sneak past Nats in two game sweep
1. Game 1: Orioles 1, Nationals 0
Tell me if you've read this before: the Orioles shut out the Nationals. If it sounds familiar, it's because the O's Game 1 shutout of the Nationals marked their third shutout in three games against their Beltway rival this season. It was also their second 1-0 win over the Nationals in three games.
Playing with heavy hearts following the passing of Orioles legend Brooks Robinson, the Orioles scored the game's only run on in the game's first inning, when Gunnar Henderson launched his 27th home run to right-center.
Kyle Bradish, who has quietly placed himself in the running for the AL Cy Young Award, took care of the rest, throwing 8 spectacular shutout innings against an overmatched Washington lineup. Securing ground ball out after ground ball out, Bradish cruised to his longest, and best, outing of the season. Yennier Cano quickly struck out the side in the ninth inning, and the Orioles lowered their Magic Number to 2.
2. Game 2: Orioles 5, Nationals 1
All good things must come to an end. On Wednesday night, the Orioles streak of 31 straight scoreless innings against the Nationals ended in the top fifth inning on Jake Alu's run-scoring single scoring Dominic Smith. That was the only negative in an otherwise fantastic night at Camden Yards, which I enjoyed with three old high school friends.
Adley Rutschman put the Orioles on the board in the bottom of the third with a 395-foot home run to left-center and the Orioles never looked back, stomping the Nats 5-1 and lowering their Magic Number to 1. The O's tacked on two runs in the fifth on Rutschman's RBI single and Jordan Westburg's bases-loaded walk. Austin Hays' RBI single past a drawn-in infield in the sixth extended the margin to 4, and the Orioles' bullpen took care of the rest.
Of note, Tyler Wells pitched a clean bottom of the ninth inning, showing, hopefully, that he is fully healthy and can contribute out of the Orioles' bullpen in the playoffs. Going from All-Star hopeful to reliever is probably not what Wells had in mind, but he can be a key late-inning arm in the games that really matter this October.
Of course, Tampa Bay beat the hapless Red Sox 5-0 last night, and the Orioles' celebration had to wait another day. But that's okay. At this point, it does not really matter what Tampa Bay does or doesn't do. The Orioles control their own destiny, and with one win against the Red Sox, can clinch their first American League East title since 2014.
It's a great time to be in Birdland.