Coming out of the All-Star break, baseball fans are being treated to some great series that are setting the scene for a tremendously entertaining stretch run. Although neither of the first two games between the Orioles and Rangers has been an instant classic, that’s the matchup with which I’m having the most fun. It’s an old-fashioned showdown series in the middle of the summer, and Baltimore is making a statement.

The O’s are in better shape than they’ve been in for a while, thanks to the return of Wei-Yin Chen and the addition of an erstwhile Chicago Cub to their starting rotation. The Rangers, meanwhile, get Yu Darvish back on Monday, and are in the process of (maybe?) adding a Cubs starter of their own.

That’s not all that links these franchises. The Koji Uehara-for-Tommy Hunter-and-Chris Davis deal has to be stinging the Rangers, although it wasn’t a bad trade at either end when it happened. The Orioles also got Pedro Strop from Texas in a trade for Mike Gonzalez in 2011, and claimed Darren O’Day off waivers from them before last season. All that came right before the Orioles were the team that capped the Rangers’ second-half collapse last fall and beat them in the coin-flip game for the right to participate in the real playoffs, and right after they declared their intent to contend again by hiring former Rangers manager Buck Showalter.

It’s becoming a hidden rivalry. Although the teams are, of course, non-divisional opponents, they’re direct competitors for Wild Card entries, and that’s part of what makes this weekend fun: By winning the first two games of the set, Baltimore has moved in front of the Rangers, by half a game, and into the lead for the second Wild Card slot.

I still think Texas ultimately has the better team, but the Orioles are measurably better-managed, and if they finish off the sweep Sunday, they’ll have a neat cushion to take into the stretch run.

It’s also worth noting that, when rebuilding (as the Orioles were at the time of those deals and claims in 2011), this is the right approach. You want to be trading as often as possible with the teams most loaded with talent. A waiver claim from the Rangers (like O’Day) might be a guy who would have stuck on 20-25 other rosters. And most teams don’t have the positional depth to effectively crowd out Chris Davis–not even the pre-2013 Chris Davis.

Before simple geography and ESPN started telling us who the rivals in pro sports were, these coincidental collisions created a lot of rivalries. This is a lovely call-back to those days. With any luck, these two teams will end up tied for the second Wold Card slot with 91 wins apiece at season’s end, and this surprise rivalry will be resolved for the year with a one-game tiebreaker for the right to play someone else in a one-game playoff.

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