Ubaldo Jimenez pitched a complete game for the Orioles. That’s one of those sentences where you know all of the words, and yet, linked together in that order, they almost make no sense. That was a crazy thing that happened. It’s in the box score.
In the wild card chase, the Orioles were not helped at all by Jimenez’s complete game and yesterday’s victory because every other team currently chasing the second wild card spot also won on Monday. However, both the Blue Jays and the Red Sox lost, which means that the Orioles are now just two games back of the AL East lead, and one game back for the first wild card spot.
What kind of shot might the Orioles have at making a run for the division crown the rest of the way?
In a number of ways, it feels like the Orioles “should” be farther back than just two games behind the Jays. Their offense, at least in terms of run output, trails the Jays and is far behind the Red Sox. The pitching/defense has allowed more runs than both of the competitors they’re chasing as well.
But as ever, it doesn’t matter what “should” have happened up to this point. The only things that matter are the things that actually happened and the things that are going to happen. And for sure, if the Orioles rotation keeps pitching the way that it has done all season, they’re not going to win the division and they’re probably not going to stay in the wild card picture either.
Something like a Jimenez complete game makes you wonder, though, what if the Orioles right now turn out to be a better version of the team than we’ve seen in July and August? Making up two games in the last 25 - or just one game for the first wild card - isn’t such a huge ask any more.
Chances of passing the Blue Jays
The Jays are presently projected by Fangraphs to go 14-11 the rest of the season, finishing up with a record of 91-71. The Orioles would have to go 16-9 the rest of the way to equal that number. That’s .640 baseball. A two game deficit isn’t very much, but it’s hard to be two games better than a good team that’s expected to keep being good.
The Orioles will not have many chances to take on the Jays head-to-head, either. They only have three games remaining against Toronto, and those three are on the road at the end of September in the regular season’s penultimate series.
On the other hand, the Jays only have seven games remaining against non-contending teams, and they must make a seven game west coast road trip from September 15-21. They probably won’t play as badly against the Angels and Mariners as the Orioles would do, but it’s something to hope for, as long as the Orioles keep winning to keep their own chances alive.
The Jays and Red Sox also still have six games against one another to play, including this weekend. If one of those teams can take games out of the other while the Orioles win elsewhere, that’s good for the O’s chances of passing one of them. Of course, passing one just gets them hosting a wild card game and not right into the ALDS.
Given how much better the Orioles are at home than on the road, it’s not nothing to have a potential one game playoff at Camden Yards, even if it’s not as exciting as winning the division.
Chances of passing the Red Sox
If you think about it, it’s actually completely pathetic that the Red Sox are only a game ahead of the Orioles and they aren’t even leading the division right now. They have a rotation that includes Rick Porcello and Steven Wright with ERAs in the low 3s. David Price is there, and Drew Pomeranz has been fine since they traded for him.
They also have Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts, who if you listen to the baseball media are obviously the best trio of young players to ever play the game of baseball. Oh yeah, and let’s not forget the Vandal, David Ortiz, who, with a .318/.406/.625 batting line at age 40 as he’s about to retire, has injected a lot of life into his team.
That scoundrel Pythagoras, or at least the scoundrels who appropriated his name for a baseball stat, deems that the Red Sox “should” have a record of 81-56. The Red Sox actual record is 76-61. What kind of losers can’t even outperform their Pythagorean record? The Orioles, at 75-62, are five games ahead of their expected 70-67.
Fangraphs also thinks the Red Sox will go 14-11 the rest of the way to end up with a 90-72 record. That’s asking the Orioles to go 15-10 to at least tie them: .600 baseball. The Orioles played better than .600 in April and June, but again, it’s a big ask.
There will be chances to take games out of the Red Sox themselves, though. The O’s have seven games remaining against Boston, three on the road and four at home. Whatever they do or don’t do against the Red Sox, another nine games will be remaining after the last Boston game. If they somehow gain an edge, they’ll have to hold onto it.
Boston only has five games remaining against non-contenders. That’s the remainder of their current series against the Padres and three games against the Rays. They have a ten game road trip awaiting them as the season winds to a close. At 35-31 on the road, that’s less of a concern for them than it might be for the O’s.
After thinking about all of that, something ridiculous or miraculous would have to happen for the Orioles to pass both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays. Yes, it’s only two games deficit out of the last 25, but even in the aftermath of the Jimenez complete game, the Orioles must overcome too many other problems.
If Chris Tillman really returns soon, will he look like the pitcher he was before he went on the disabled list? Can Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman keep pitching strong late into the season? Can Wade Miley and Yovani Gallardo stop being quite so, well, them? Can the feast-or-famine offense have more feasts than famines in the last four weeks of the season?
The Orioles need to either really click or have both the teams ahead of them really stumble. Both would be just fine, but can’t be counted on. Could they win the AL East still? Sure, they’re only two games back. Probably not.