August 12, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles outfielders Nate McLouth (9) Nick Markakis (21) and Adam Jones (10) celebrate after a game against the Kansas City Royals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Royals 5 - 3.
On May 5, the Orioles blew out the Red Sox in Boston by a score of 8-2. After that game, the Orioles were 18-9, in second place in the AL East, and things were riding high. It has been 88 games since then, and the O's are still 9 games over .500 and they are now in third place, though only by one game in the loss column. Things are still riding really high, but that's a lot of games of exactly .500 baseball for a serious playoff contender.
The last 47 games of the 2012 season are not easy for the Orioles. CamdenChatter Dr. J took notice that the Orioles have the second hardest remaining schedule (by opponent winning percentage) of the remaining American League playoff contenders. I'd like to take it a step further by playing the arbitrary endpoints game and looking at what the other wild card contenders (so we'll ignore the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees) have done since May 5:
It doesn't mean anything in an absolute sense, just that while the Orioles have - without a doubt - surprised and impressed just by playing .500 ball for over half a season, all of their competitors except Tampa Bay have been playing better than them.
That should come as exactly zero surprise, because you can make a pretty strong argument that the Orioles are not as good as any of these other teams. They have the third worst offense of the group, averaging 4.18 runs per game. That puts them ahead of Tampa and Oakland but nearly half a run per game behind everyone else. The Orioles' team wOBA is .309, which is again ahead of only Tampa and Oakland out of this group of contenders, so they aren't experiencing a run of - for lack of a better word - bad luck, they simply haven't been as good at the plate as these other teams.
The Orioles' team ERA is ahead of Boston and not too far behind Chicago, LA, and Detroit, but it is over a half run worse than Oakland and Tampa. That hurts Baltimore's offensive advantage over those two teams to some degree. The one huge strength of the Orioles has been their bullpen*, but they're neck-and-neck with Oakland and Tampa in relief ERA for the season, so there's not much advantage to be wrung there, either.
All of this, the schedule, what the everyone's done for the past three months, the offensive production, the defensive production is not at all meant to excuse the Orioles' place in the standings or performance so far. The Orioles are nine games over .500 in the middle of August and that's amazing and wonderful! They have a series this week with the Red Sox, and it's far, far more important for Boston to win it than it is for Baltimore (where have I heard that before?). That's amazing and wonderful, too.
All of it does showcase how difficult the rest of the journey will be. The Orioles haven't earned anything, no matter how often "If the season ended today, they'd be in the playoffs" is said. There's a lot of baseball to be played, and the O's are marching uphill - steeply uphill - the rest of the way.
*Pedro Strop for MVP!