The finale of their three-game series against the Rays on Wednesday won't decide anything for the Orioles, but it might be one of their first games that qualifies as a must-win.
Having lost the first two games of the series, the Orioles send left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to the mound against Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson. It's a finale that holds some weight for the Orioles as they try to keep the American League East-leading Red Sox and Wild Card-leading Rays in their sights.
The Rays are now 5 1/2 games ahead of the Orioles, have the A's on their heels for the second Wild Card spot and own a 9-5 record thus far in the season series with Baltimore. Whereas the Rays have won six of their last seven, the Orioles are now 8-9 for August after going 18-9 in August 2012 en route to the postseason.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter knows that his club set itself up with high expectations, and he doesn't see any reason to change how they've been going about their business.
"We weren't talking about this in the past. Why? Because the expectation wasn't there," Showalter said. "They've created [expectations] because of how good they are and how good they are becoming day by day. That's why the expectations are there. You aren't having those expectations of Joe Schmoe. They are good players."
When the Orioles send Chen to the mound to play stopper, they'll be turning to a second-year starter who has been sharp at home and solid against the Rays. He has five quality starts and a 3.12 ERA in his six outings at Camden Yards this season and a 3.00 ERA (but a 1-3 record) against Tampa Bay.
Hellickson, meanwhile, has been working his way out of a valley in his roller-coaster season, having gone 0-3 with an 8.00 ERA his last four starts but delivering a quality outing in a loss to the Blue Jays his last time out. He allowed three earned runs in six innings in that one, with all three runs scoring with two outs.
"I've given up a lot of two-out runs. Two out, nobody on and a guy on first, and I give up two or three hits in a row," Hellickson said. "It has been kind of frustrating, but I really can't think about it. I just have to move on. If it comes down to it again, you have to make that pitch."
Rays: Longoria, Zobrist moving up charts
Evan Longoria notched his fourth 25-homer season on Monday, matching Carlos Pena for the most such seasons in franchise history.
"Twenty-five is a solid number, 30 is better and, hopefully, I can get there by the end of the season," said Longoria, who, with 155 homers, is now just seven behind Pena for the all-time franchise lead "It's a much cooler number to look at at the end of the year."
With an RBI double on Tuesday, Ben Zobrist matched B.J. Upton for fifth on the Rays' all-time RBI list, with No. 447. Zobrist needs just two more to match Aubrey Huff for fourth. Carl Crawford (592) is the team's leader, followed by Longoria (522) and Pena (468).
That double, the first of Zobrist's two hits on Tuesday, broke an 0-for-10 skid for the All-Star second baseman.
Orioles: K-Rod pitching through pain
Francisco Rodriguez is dealing with a strained right groin but says he won't need a stint on the disabled list and plans to be available.
After first feeling pain on Friday, Rodriguez had two games off before pitching an inning in Monday's series opener against the Rays. He did not pitch on Tuesday.
"It's just pain. I don't think it's an injury," Rodriguez said. "Every ballplayer over the course of the season will go through that. It happened to me, got to fight through it. I'll be all right."
• They each committed an error on Tuesday, but the Rays and Orioles remain the only two teams in the Majors to avoid a three-error game this season. The Rays have six two-error games, the O's seven.
• The Rays and Orioles will meet just once more this season after Wednesday's finale, with four games scheduled in St. Petersburg from Sept. 20-23.
• Both teams have Thursday off before the Rays host the Yankees and the Orioles meet another postseason hopeful in the A's, the team currently holding the second Wild Card spot.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.