Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
The following is NOT a true statement: If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would be in the playoffs.
This is a true statement:On August 11, 1994, the Montreal Expos lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates four to nothing. It gave Montreal a 74-40 record, which was the best in baseball. The season ended that day, and the Expos most certainly did not go to the playoffs. The 1994 postseason was cancelled along with the remaining 48 regular season games when the players union went on strike.
Right now, the Orioles (45-40) occupy the second spot in the American League Wild Card standings over, in order, Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Detroit, Boston, Toronto, and Oakland. But there's no scenario where that accurately translates to "if the season ended today, the O's would be in the playoffs", because that would forget the pressing matter of the entire second half of the season. There is no prize for being the second best Wild Card team after 85 games.
You might think that I'm making a petty argument about semantics. What I see when I see "If the season ended today, the Orioles would be a playoff team!" is someone applying spin and trying to get the facts of the matter to work for them. As a sabrmetrics guy, I've been told more than a few times over the years banal things like "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics". I've always taken that type of thing to mean that people generally think the stats world is full of spin and that you can find a stat to support any argument you want to make on any subject. There's a big kernel of truth there, but that doesn't just apply to statistics or sabrmetrics. People are spinning facts at you all the time.
The Orioles' fans, specifically, are done a disservice here. The Orioles' position in the wild card hunt - and it seems extraordinarily unlikely that Baltimore is able to get back into the divisional race, sitting seven games behind the Yankees - is hardly solid. Of the six teams I mentioned as being in the race, the teams farthest behind (Toronto, Boston, and Oakland) are all only three games back in the loss column, a difference that can be made up in one bad weekend. Tampa Bay and Cleveland are only one game back.
None of these teams have a worse run differential than Baltimore. Only Oakland has scored fewer runs per game, and only Toronto and Cleveland have given up more runs per game.The Orioles have no true leadoff hitter, only two starting pitchers, several players in non-optimized defensive placements, and a harsher schedule than any other team. The odds are stacked against them.
It doesn't take away from their tremendous first half, which has been as fun and surprising as baseball should be. But I keep coming back to something Buck Showalter said this past spring training, which was that the season is too long for there to be any Cinderellas. The cream always rises to the top. The uncomfortable truth is that the Orioles got here in a pumpkin carriage. They aren't good enough for the playoffs. They need to outlast a clock that still has 3 months to go.