First Place Is on the Line This Weekend

The Orioles were never supposed to make it this far

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Showalter brings his new team into his old stomping grounds.

    Everyone figured the Yankees would be fighting for the division title come the start of September.

    No one figured that they'd be battling the Orioles. That's exactly where we find things at the start of business on Friday as Baltimore rolls into the Bronx just three games back of the Yankees.

    It's a three-game series, so you can handle the math to see what the state of the standings will be should the Orioles find their way to a sweep at the stadium. And you can probably give just as good a guess about the state of Yankee Universe should such a sweep go down.

    It will be panic of the highest order. The Yankees were up 10 games on the pack not so long ago and looked like they would be putting things into cruise control as they settled into playoff position.

    Injuries, slumps, shaky work by the middle relievers and hot streaks by the Orioles and Rays have combined to bring the Yankees back to the pack as the calender gets ready to turn to its final page of the regular season. It's a bit hard to fathom how this has happened, which makes sense because it is almost impossible to fathom how Buck Showalter has gotten the Orioles to this point.

    Baltimore has been outscored by 44 runs over the course of the season, a number that suggests anything other than a first-place team, and they've gone a remarkable 24-6 in one-run games. Teams with numbers like that scream out that there's a regression coming, except that it is almost September and no regression has reared its head in Charm City.

    The record in one-run games becomes easier to swallow when you see the work done by the Baltimore bullpen, closer Jim Johnson and his 41 saves in particular, but it's still remarkable how much Showalter's been able to subvert the traditional methods of a winning team over the course of the season. That shouldn't make them any more of a threat to the Yankees, though.

    Injuries have robbed the lineup of some punch, but the team still has Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson populating the lineup right now. That should be enough for them to generate enough offense to beat their opponents, certainly ones with starting pitching as shoddy as the Orioles bring to town.

    Should isn't a word that's mattered much in Baltimore this season, though. We'll find out if it starts to mean something this weekend.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.