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    2023 AL East odds: Orioles vs. Rays series starting Thursday could decide division winner, league's top playoff seed

    The Rays open a huge series at the Orioles tonight.
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    The biggest series remaining in the 2023 MLB regular season starts Thursday in Baltimore with the Orioles leading the AL East by two games and hosting the second-place Tampa Bay Rays for a four-game set. The winner of this series, if there is one, could be in the driver's seat to win the division and finish with the top seed in the AL. The Orioles are -425 to win the East at DraftKings (Rays +320) and favored Thursday night behind Kyle Bradish.

    There is no doubt in my mind that the Orioles, who haven't been to the playoffs since 2016, were looking ahead to this series the past two games when they were beaten at home by a bad St. Louis Cardinals team 5-2 and 1-0, even though the Cards were starting two of the worst pitchers in the majors in Adam Wainwright and Drew Rom. Wednesday was the first time the O's had been blanked since July 21 at Tampa Bay (3-0).

    Baltimore's magic number to clinch a playoff berth is four and its magic number to win the AL East for the first time since 2014 is 15. The O's are 6-3 vs. the Rays this year, meaning one win this weekend will give the Orioles the tiebreaker over Tampa Bay. Whichever team wins the East is going to be the AL's top seed and whichever doesn't will be the top Wild Card team.

    It's unlikely that the AL East winner catches NL East champion Atlanta (96-50) for the best record throughout the playoffs, but the Braves also have little to play for the rest of the way as they will finish with the NL's top seed regardless.

    It's a sellout Thursday as former fan-favorite outfielder Adam Jones will officially retire and be honored before the game. The five-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner last played in the majors with the Diamondbacks in 2019 before competing in Japan for two seasons.

    Baltimore has been in first place since July 19, in part because it hasn't lost more than two games in a row since then. That run is on the line Thursday, and the team might be without first baseman/DH Ryan Mountcastle. He was pulled from Wednesday's loss and will likely be out for a spell. Mountcastle is batting .269 with 18 homers and 67 RBI.

    Bradish (11-6, 3.03 ERA) takes the mound and the O's have won his past seven. He has allowed exactly two earned runs over six innings in four of his past five outings. He is 4-3 with a 2.06 ERA at home. Bradish has a 1-2 record and 6.53 ERA in four career starts vs. the Rays, but is 1-1 this year with a 3.27 ERA.

    Tampa Bay counters with Aaron Civale (7-3, 2.96 ERA). Since the trade from Cleveland, he is 2-1 with a 4.29 ERA in seven starts. Civale is 2-0 in two career starts against Baltimore despite a 7.36 ERA. He made both in a two-week span in 2021 with Cleveland.

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