Why the first month of the season is the most critical to the Orioles' playoff hopes

Nick Markakis celebrates the Orioles' Wild Card victory in 2012. - Ronald Martinez

A month-by-month statistical breakdown of the Baltimore Orioles 2014 season.

To no fault of their own, the Baltimore Orioles play in what is widely considered the best division in baseball. In fact, since its inception in 1969, the winner of the AL East has gone on to play in the World Series 25 times, winning 14* World Championships. Furthermore, the division has produced the AL Wild Card in all but four years since an extra team was added to the playoffs in 1995. If the Orioles are to make the playoffs for only the second time in the past 17 years, they must emerge victorious from the gauntlet that is the American League East.

*Note: The Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series as the AL Wild Card.

April

.543 opponent winning percentage

Using last season’s winning percentage as a benchmark, the month of April is statistically the most difficult month the Orioles will face. A season opening matchup with the World Champion Red Sox is tough enough in itself, but Baltimore must travel to Detroit and then New York shortly after. The Tigers will be looking to unseat the Red Sox from the pennant and return to the World Series for the second time in three seasons. Meanwhile, the new-look Yankees spent a half billion dollars to revamp their roster.

The Birds will continue their string of six consecutive opponents from the AL East with visits from the Blue Jays and Rays, winners of the AL Wild Card Game, followed by trips to Boston and Toronto. Although the Blue Jays seem to be the easiest matchup of the schedule’s first month, the Orioles narrowly took the season series in 2013, 10-9. The month concludes with visits from the Royals, who finished with a better record than the Orioles and were in playoff contention until the final week of the season, and the Pirates, hoping to make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in over 20 years.

Red Sox 97-65 .599
at Tigers 93-69 .574
at Yankees 85-77 .525
Blue Jays 74-88 .457
Rays 92-71 .564
at Red Sox 97-65 .599
at Blue Jays 74-88 .457
Royals 86-76 .531
Pirates 94-68 .580

May

.479 opponent winning percentage

Unlike the previous month, May will allow the Orioles to regroup. Although they face four 2013 playoff teams, only one will have an impact in the division race. The month opens with a trip to Minnesota to face the Twins, who are looking to avoid their fourth-consecutive 90-loss season. Following that three-game set, the Orioles will complete their road trip against the Rays at the Trop. Many pundits have picked the Rays to emerge from the American League, so this series allows the Orioles an opportunity to gauge their expectations.

The O’s will come home for a matchup with the 111-loss Astros, also receiving a return visit from the Tigers before they hit the road once more. A trip to Kansas City may have implications on the Wild Card race, while a matchup with the Pirates will provide a rematch of the 1971 World Series. Cleveland, winners of one Wild Card spot last season, will be welcomed to Camden Yards for a short series before the Orioles hit the road to end the month. Finally, a matchup with former Oriole Francisco Rodriguez and the Brewers will precede a calendar-turning trip to Houston.

at Twins 66-96 .407
at Rays 92-71 .564
Astros 51-111 .315
Tigers 93-69 .574
at Royals 86-76 .531
at Pirates 94-68 .580
Indians 92-70 .568
at Brewers 74-88 .457
at Astros 51-111 .315

June

.531 opponent winning percentage

The Orioles will continue their Texas road trip with a rematch of the 2012 Wild Card Game. The Rangers just missed out on a playoff spot last season, losing to the Rays in a one-game tiebreaker. Camden Yards should be rocking for two big series, as the Orioles will play host to the AL West Champion Athletics and the Red Sox. The homestand will conclude with a visit from the Blue Jays, before the Birds continue another string of consecutive AL East matchups with trips to Tampa and New York. The O’s get a break in the schedule when the White Sox arrive in Baltimore, but face another crucial divisional matchup with the Rays shortly thereafter.

at Rangers 91-72 .558
Athletics 96-66 .593
Red Sox 97-65 .599
Blue Jays 74-88 .457
at Rays 92-71 .564
at Yankees 85-77 .525
White Sox 63-99 .389
Rays 92-71 .564

July

.467 opponent winning percentage

Just before the annual All-Star break, the Orioles will host the Rangers, a team to likely be fighting for playoff positioning with Baltimore. Another trip to Boston will precede interleague play, as the Orioles and Nationals will play a unique four-game series, with two games played in Baltimore and two in DC. Another matchup with the Yankees hopes to send the Orioles into the break with a divisional lead. With home field advantage in the World Series now set, the push to the playoffs will begin with the Birds on the west coast. Matchups with the Athletics, Angels, and Mariners will all provide challenges, as the O’s have historically struggled during this portion of the schedule. The Angels will be looking to have a rebound season, while the Mariners hope new acquisition Robinson Cano will help them return to contention.

Rangers 91-72 .558
at Red Sox 97-65 .599
at Nationals 86-76 .531
Nationals 86-76 .531
Yankees 85-77 .525
at Athletics 96-66 .593
at Angels 78-84 .481
at Mariners 71-91 .438
vs Angels 78-84 .481

August

.484 opponent winning percentage

Another matchup with the Mariners, this time in Baltimore, will open the hottest month of the schedule. The Birds will travel outside of the country for a quick series with the Blue Jays before returning home to play host to the National League Champion Cardinals for the first time since 2011. Continuing the homestand, the Orioles will play the Yankees once again before heading on a Midwest road trip. Another matchup Cleveland will be crucial down the stretch, as both teams may be fighting for playoff positioning. The O’s will play two series in Chicago, one on the north side and the other on the south, with both teams coming off of seasons where they lost almost 100 games apiece. The month concludes with visits from the division rival Rays and the Twins.

Mariners 71-91 .438
at Blue Jays 74-88 .457
Cardinals 97-65 .599
Yankees 85-77 .525
at Indians 92-70 .568
at White Sox 63-99 .389
at Cubs 66-96 .407
Rays 92-71 .564
Twins 66-96 .407

September

.535 opponent winning percentage

Like the first month of the season, the final month is among the toughest in all of baseball. Playing in the most difficult division may give your team bragging rights, but the seven divisional matchups down the stretch may push the Orioles above and beyond or break them. A visit from the Reds, a playoff team in three straight seasons, will open the month, but the seven-consecutive divisional matchups to end the season. The Birds will make their final trips of the season to Tampa and Boston before returning to Baltimore for the final homestand of the year. The Yankees, Blue Jays, and Red Sox will visit Camden Yards, as the Orioles hope to reach two million visitors for the third-consecutive season. The 60th season of Orioles baseball will conclude with the team on the road with games in New York and Toronto.

Reds 90-72 .556
at Rays 92-71 .564
at Red Sox 97-65 .599
Yankees 85-77 .525
Blue Jays 74-88 .457
Red Sox 97-65 .599
at Yankees 85-77 .525
at Blue Jays 74-88 .457

Outlook

While many can argue that success in the season’s final month is critical to a team’s success, I feel that starting the year off on the right foot is even more crucial. With six series matchups against divisional opponents, the Orioles could open a sizable lead or dig themselves a hole early on. If you hope to be within reach of a divisional crown, a winning first month of the season allows room for error throughout the season, as opposed to playing catch-up from the onset. Schedule-wise, the first and last months are similar, as Baltimore plays one additional divisional series in September, but faces one additional playoff opponent in April.

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