There are now just 30 games remaining in the Orioles regular season. Those 30 games will determine the fate of the universe, or at least the fate of our little corner of baseball for this season.
At 72-60 right now, the Orioles sit in third place in the American League East, trailing the leading Blue Jays by two games and the second place Red Sox by one game. They have the edge for the second AL wild card spot by a single game over the Tigers, with all of the Astros, Royals, Yankees, and Mariners within four games.
That’s a lot of competition that the O’s are going to have to hold off in order to just have the opportunity to play one game to continue on in the playoffs.
How many wins do you think it’s going to take for the Orioles to hold those teams off?
The pessimist’s case
A pessimist - which longtime Camden Chat readers know is me - might look at all of these teams that are charging hard to gain ground on the O’s and think that more than one of them will end up topping 90 wins, so if the Orioles are going to make the postseason, they’ll have to top 90 wins, too.
That means the Orioles would have to play .600 baseball just to get to 90 wins - an 18-12 record over the remainder of the season. The Orioles have topped a .600 winning percentage in both April and June this season, so they’re capable of playing that well over a long stretch of time.
However, it’s also been a while since the Orioles have played at that caliber for that long. The O’s finished July with a sub-.500 record and whether or not they close out the Jays series with a win tonight, they’ll be below-.500 for August, too. Turning that around while their best starting pitcher, Chris Tillman, is on the shelf for a couple of weeks is a tough task.
The optimist’s case
Maybe they don’t need to get above 90 wins, though. A lower number could end up being enough.
There’s a lot of griping in the realm of Orioles fans about the prognosticating machines and people at Fangraphs, especially before a season kicks off. Indeed, when the staff of that website predicted the AL postseason teams before the season began, not a single one of them picked the Orioles as a postseason team.
One writer was even riding hard for the Minnesota Twins to win the AL Central. The Twins have a 49-83 record right now. More of Fangraphs thought what’s now a .371 team would make the postseason than thought the Orioles would.
So it might surprise you that right now, based on their projected rest of season standings, Fangraphs thinks that the Orioles will claim the second wild card spot with a record of 88-74. Not an overwhelmingly great record, but then again, I am 32 years old, and there have only been four seasons in my lifetime where the Orioles have won more games than that. If you were born from 1993-1996, you’ve only seen three seasons above 88 wins. An Orioles fan born after 1997 has only been alive for two.
Fangraphs is not the only site who presently likes the Orioles’ chances. ESPN’s Dan Szymborski, the keeper of the ZiPS projection system, also projects out the Orioles to an 88-74 record (Insider required) and puts their postseason chances at 54.6% overall. You have to like them being better than 50%, though if the Orioles lose tonight, they’ll probably be right back below 50%.
To get to 88 wins, the Orioles would have to go 16-14. That’s merely a .520 winning percentage, which doesn’t sound so daunting. It may yet prove to be daunting given that the Orioles will play half of their remaining games on the road.
Up to this point in the season, the Orioles have played to a .439 winning percentage on the road. Depending on whether you round up or round down, that would mean a 6-9 or 7-8 road record for the last month of the season. If they go 6-9 on the road, they have to go 10-5 at home to reach 88 wins. They’ve been nearly that good at home to date (.652 winning percentage,) but it’s still a tall order.
The teams chasing the Orioles
And all of that is assuming that 88 wins is what gets it done. It may not do so. Of the wild card competing teams I named above, all of them except for the Royals are projected to win 16 of their remaining games. If any of those teams are hotter than that for the remainder of the season, that’s less of a cushion the Orioles have.
The Royals get a 14-16 rest of season projection, which may be unreasonably pessimistic for them. Kansas City only plays 13 of their last 30 games against teams in the postseason hunt. The Orioles, facing an AL East-laden September with three other AL East teams in the postseason picture, must play 20 of their last 30 games against contenders.
The AL East heavy schedule could be a positive, if the Orioles can win, because they will have direct chances to take games out of the Red Sox and Blue Jays and improve their own standing. But that requires them to play well against those good teams, and if they lose, their chances are doubly hurt. Games like tonight’s where Yovani Gallardo faces the Jays sluggers do not inspire confidence.
Does Detroit have an 18-12 finish in them? Can the Astros finish 19-11? The Yankees must close out with a 21-10 record in order to get above 88 wins. For the Royals it would be 20-10. The Mariners must go 21-9 to make the playoffs, if 88 wins is the number.
No one of those things seems to be a likely outcome, individually. Even the team with the best record in baseball, the Cubs, has not won two-thirds of the games it has played this season. They have played to a .641 winning percentage. The Astros would “only” need to play .633 baseball from here on to get to 89 wins. For the Tigers that’s “merely” .600 baseball for the last month.
The chances that one among that group plays as well as they need to play are greater than any one team’s chances of doing so. And all of this is assuming that the Orioles get to 88 wins to begin with, which they may not do.
It may be optimistic to think they play .500 baseball from here on and win 87 games. Now all of the teams chasing them have that much of an easier time catching and passing them. And if they play below .500 from here on? That means forget about the postseason. An 86 win season is better than a 68 win season, but that’s about all you can say about it.