The Orioles come into Friday's game against the Tigers just 3.5 games out of a wild card spot in the American League, with four teams to pass in order to claim a spot. That sounds a lot better than where they were before their just-snapped winning streak, but the deck is still stacked against them. According to Fangraphs, the Orioles have just a 6% chance of making the postseason.
These numbers are subject to change daily. The Orioles could rattle off another five game winning streak and their odds would go up, especially if that meant they were able to gain ground on, or pass, any of the teams ahead of them.
Regardless of where they are presently in the standings, the Fangraphs playoff prediction is stacked against the Orioles for the simple reason that it doesn't think they are very good. Fangraphs thinks the most likely outcome is the Orioles will have a .467 winning percentage for the rest of the season. That would leave them with 78 wins.
This is not an unfair projection, given what we have seen of the team over the last three months. The Orioles have not had a winning month since April. The starting rotation that's gotten them where they are is still there, with the addition of Jeremy Hellickson and the presumed subtraction of one of the other five guys, yet to be determined.
If you spend too long trying to think about what would have to happen for the Orioles to make the postseason, you're probably going to say or think things that sound a lot like a person who is in the bargaining stage of grief. Things like "If the starting rotation can just get a little bit better..." or "It'll only take a 31-23 record to get to 84 wins!" amount to trying to strike a deal with the baseball gods.
There's nothing exciting sounding at all about 84 wins, anyway. However, at least for the moment, that's what the Fangraphs formula thinks will be good enough for the second wild card spot in the AL. The Orioles have had their problems this year, but so have all of the teams ahead of them in the wild card standings.
Even the Royals, currently sitting in the second wild card spot, are only expected to finish about .500 the rest of the way, which is how 84 wins is the current target number. If they rattle off another nine game winning streak, that would change in a hurry, and suddenly the O's would need to do even better to hit 86 or 88 wins.
The good news for the O's is that they will have the opportunity to gain games on the teams who are ahead of them. Along with the Royals, they're behind the Rays, Mariners, and Angels. While the O's have finished playing the Royals, they have seven games remaining against each of the others. They'll hit both the Angels and Mariners on the upcoming ten-game west coast road trip.
Although the freshest taste in O's fans mouths after Thursday's loss is Chris Tillman's continuing struggle, some things are trending in the right direction for the O's. Manny Machado just completed a July in which he batted .327/.379/.490. Could his slump be subsiding? Zach Britton being back has looked like a good thing. And while it's too early to say much about new acquisitions Hellickson and Tim Beckham, they've at least made a nice first impression.
You don't want to be the sucker betting your house or your life savings on a mediocre team suddenly turning things on. That much is certain. But it does happen sometimes. The 2012 Orioles, for instance, had just a 52-49 record towards the end of July and were 8.5 games out of the division lead at that point. They ripped off a 41-24 record the rest of the way from that point on.
I'm not going to argue that the 2017 Orioles look much like the 2012 O's. They surely don't. The 2012 wild card team never spent any time below .500. They never lost seven games in a row. They were better on the road. Even before they launched, they never looked as bad as the 2017 O's have at times looked. That said, the 2012 Orioles didn't look a while lot like anything special, either, until suddenly they were.
Is something like that hidden underneath the surface of this year's team? Maybe. The O's have a team of guys who are experienced in chasing down a postseason spot. Anyone who's been around since 2012 has been to the playoffs three times and those who have been on the team since 2014 have been twice.
That kind of experience is worth something. It won't be worth much if the starting rotation continues to have a 5.71 ERA or higher, but of course, all of our wild imagined scenarios of the Orioles competing involve that getting better.
From here on out, the Orioles essentially must win every three game series and at least split every two or four game series. That doesn't sound very likely. It's not! That's why their chances are only at 6%. Better to be at 6% than 0%, though. As long as they keep winning, they will have a chance.