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BALTIMORE -- Both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Baltimore Orioles are mathematically alive in the American League wild-card race.
Their four-game series could keep one team on that path while knocking the other out of the running.
The Orioles (74-80) gained the upper hand with a 3-1 victory in the opener on Thursday. The Rays (74-79) now must find a way to bounce back on Friday, though they are still ahead of Baltimore in the standings.
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The Minnesota Twins sit in the second AL wild-card position, 2 1/2 games in front of the Los Angeles Angels and the Texas Rangers. The Kansas City Royals are 3 1/2 games back, the Rays and Seattle Mariners are five games out, and the Orioles are 5 1/2 games back.
"We have to play really well," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "We need some other teams to probably not play so well. We have to keep winning ballgames. We have not found a way to consistently do that for whatever reason, but this is a big series for both clubs."
Rays right-hander Alex Cobb (11-10, 3.63 ERA) has been one of the team's most effective pitchers, especially against the Orioles. He is 5-2 with a 2.54 ERA in 11 career starts against Baltimore.
In his latest outing, Saturday against the Boston Red Sox, Cobb took the loss after allowing three runs and six hits over 5 1/3 innings. He showed solid command with five strikeouts and no walks.
Cobb has allowed one earned run or none in four of his past six outings. He has a 2.51 ERA over that span.
Cobb will be a free agent at the end of the season and could be one of the market's most coveted pitchers. For now, he is just worried about helping the Rays make an unlikely late run into the playoffs.
"Your whole season depends on what we do from here on out," Cobb said.
Baltimore will counter with Ubaldo Jimenez (6-10, 6.57 ERA). The right-hander is also a free agent after the season. However, he has had a turbulent four years as an Oriole, struggling with inconsistency. This season has not been any different.
Jimenez has lost three of his past four decisions. However, he was dominant in his last outing Sunday against the New York Yankees, when he picked up his first win since Aug. 6. Jimenez allowed just one run on three hits and a walk with 10 strikeouts over five innings.
He will look to maintain that momentum against the Rays. Jimenez is 5-4 with a 4.55 ERA in 11 career starts against Tampa Bay.
"I felt good," Jimenez said after the Yankees game. "It felt really good to be able to be able to contribute and be there for the team. I haven't been able to do that too many times, but it feels really good give them a chance."
Baltimore got boost for the series opener when Manny Machado was able to return to the lineup after missing the previous game with an illness. He hit his 33rd home run of the season. However, left-handed closer Zach Britton will get a stem-cell injection on his left knee Friday and could be shut down for the year.
The Orioles announced that Jeremy Hellickson will start Saturday, but they had not named a starter for the series finale. One option could be Mike Wright, who was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on Sept. 7.
"We're taking it day-to-day. Tomorrow, Jimenez, Hellickson on Saturday," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We can make some changes with that depending on what best serves our players and our organization. We're committed to those two to three games and see where we are after that. Past that, I really wouldn't commit to that. I'll adjust it as we go."