(AP) – There was a time when the Baltimore Orioles had very little to play for in September.
During their run of 14 straight losing seasons, the Orioles plodded through dozens of meaningless games as the regular season wound down. If they weren’t playing for pride or their jobs, they were hoping to be spoilers.
This year, it’s different.
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Baltimore (92-60) has already clinched a spot in the postseason as AL East champion, so winning isn’t imperative. Sure, the Orioles still have a shot at overtaking the Los Angeles Angels to gain home-field advantage through the AL playoffs, but manager Buck Showalter is more interested in having his team fresh in October as it opens a three-game home series against the Boston Red Sox on Friday night.
Having Thursday off helped, but over the final 10 games Showalter will seek to find the perfect balance between jockeying for position in the overall standings, resting his starters and making sure everyone’s sharp in two weeks.
Right fielder Nick Markakis got the night off Wednesday against Toronto in a 6-1 win that marked the Orioles’ fourth straight and 10th in 11 games. Showalter also didn’t use relievers Tommy Hunter, Darren O’Day and Andrew Miller.
Center fielder Adam Jones and shortstop J.J. Hardy may get some rest over the weekend, and Nelson Cruz and will soon get a break, too.
”I talked to a lot of guys who have played a lot of games how we’re going to do this," Showalter said. ”I wanted to make sure we presented it properly so the players knew mentally and emotionally as much as physically."
Showalter won’t go into full substitution mode until the standings are a bit more definitive.
”Those are still meaningful games to us," Showalter said. "If we reach the point where we can’t lose home field advantage to Detroit or Kansas City and we can’t catch Anaheim, then we have a different dynamic.”
The most notable player for the Orioles down the stretch has been Steve Pearce, who hit a three-run homer in the division-clincher on Tuesday and added two more long balls on Wednesday.
As far as Pearce is concerned, the Angels are still very much in Baltimore’s sights.
”We’re going to and play our game and not going to change our game because we won the East," he said. "We’re going to go out there and keep our foot on the gas pedal and hope everything works out.”
Kevin Gausman looks to help Baltimore stay hot. Gausman (7-7, 3.57 ERA) hasn’t won since Aug. 17, receiving a total of six runs of support while going 0-3 with a 3.26 ERA over his last five starts.
The right-hander struck out seven in seven scoreless innings before Baltimore beat the New York Yankees 2-1 in 11 innings last Friday. He also had seven strikeouts while giving up one run in 5 1-3 innings of the Orioles’ 7-6 victory July 6 in his only start against the Red Sox this season.
Gausman will be opposed by Allen Webster, who will look to help the last-place Red Sox (66-87) bounce back after they were swept in a three-game set by Pittsburgh following Thursday’s 3-2 loss.
Boston scored three runs in the series, and David Ortiz went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts in the finale after missing the first two because of a family emergency.
Webster (4-3, 6.02) is coming off one of his better outings since being called up July 26, allowing two runs and four hits in six innings of last Friday’s 4-2 win over Kansas City.
"He was efficient, he was powerful," manager John Farrell said of his young right-hander. "It was encouraging to see not only the number of strikes, but the overall command of the strike zone."
Boston has lost the last five meetings with the Orioles, including a three-game sweep Sept. 8-10.