There are just 50 games left for the Orioles to play this season. They have finally gotten themselves back to a .500 record after about six weeks slumming in sub-.500 territory. This does not sound like any part of a recipe to contend for anything relating to the postseason, and yet, the O's woke up this morning just a game and a half out of the second wild card spot.
The way the Orioles have played this season is what makes this idea tough to really wrap your head around. O's fans are well-acquainted with the team's flaws. That's centered mostly, though not completely, around what has been a miserable starting rotation, still the worst in the American League despite a decent stretch over the last couple of weeks.
Prior to the trade deadline, there were a lot of assumptions made, including by me, that the O's really had no chance to compete because they have too many problems to overcome. While they still have plenty of time to fade back out of the picture, their performance over the first week since the deadline has repudiated a lot of the skeptics.
It's still going to be a tough thing to pull off. Although the Orioles are only 1.5 games out, they do still have three teams to pass. They have one of the toughest remaining schedules out of all of the postseason contenders, with the Royals, currently sitting in the wild card spot, having the easiest remaining schedule.
Save for the trade deadline additions of Jeremy Hellickson and Tim Beckham, their flaws are all going to have to be fixed by the same people who have been around all season.
The good news for the Orioles is this: The rest of the wild card contenders are in the same boat. Everywhere you look among those in the race, there are problems aplenty. If the O's are able to mitigate their worst traits over the last stretch of games better than anybody else, they could slip back into the postseason.
Kansas City Royals
The dark pact that fueled their 2014 World Series appearance and 2015 win appears to still be in effect. After a disastrous April, first baseman Eric Hosmer has raked his way to an .869 OPS. Free agent-to-be Mike Moustakas has hit 32 home runs. For the pitching staff, 34-year-old Jason Vargas is having the best season of his career.
As a team, the Royals have the single worst OBP in the AL. Catcher Salvador Perez is out for a month. That will leave them with four lineup black holes for the next month, also including shortstop, left field, and designated hitter. The three pitchers they acquired from the Padres on July 24 all currently have ERAs over 6 and their closer has an ERA over 4.
A starting rotation that includes Alex Cobb, Chris Archer, and Jacob Faria. Logan Morrison is in the middle of a career year at age 29, posting an .896 OPS to this point. The outfield corner spots are locked down by Corey Dickerson (.859 OPS) and Steven Souza (.888 OPS). Kevin Kiermaier should be back soon. In the bullpen, Tommy Hunter has a sub-1.000 WHIP. Really!
The pitching staff overall has not been very stable. For instance, the Orioles, a team with its share of pitching problems, have used 24 pitchers. That's a lot. The Rays have used 29 pitchers. It's not clear what recent additions Sergio Romo or Dan Jennings will have to offer. None of their catchers can hit at all. Second baseman Brad Miller is below the Mendoza line. They traded Tim Beckham to the Orioles and he immediately became the AL Player of the Week.
An offense headlined by former Oriole Nelson Cruz, posting an .882 OPS in the third year of a four-year contract that the O's really should have given him. Oops. No one else is close to Cruz, but the starting nine are mostly all better than league average bats and there's no one really in the dumps. That's why the Mariners have scored the fourth-most runs in the AL.
They traded for Manny Machado's brother-in-law, Yonder Alonso, who may be a good guy to have on their team. Their one good starting pitcher, James Paxton, is a very good strikeout machine.
They not only traded a breathing baseball player for Yovani Gallardo, they've let him and his 5.35 ERA start 17 games. People have spent all year acting like Ariel Miranda is better than he is even though he has a mid-4s ERA and has allowed 27 home runs.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Mike Trout is better at playing baseball than basically any other human being is at doing anything, and after missing six weeks, he's been back and as good as ever. Defensive wizard Andrelton Simmons is swinging the bat well for the first time in his career, with an .817 OPS to date.
The team is plagued by injury problems even now that Trout is back. Basically every hitter other than Trout and Simmons is a colossal disappointment. The Angels have the worst slugging percentage and OPS in the AL. Albert Pujols is worth -1.5 WAR this season so far and he is still owed $124 million by the Angels after this year.
They have two 5+ ERA pitchers in their rotation and if it wasn't for Parker Bridwell's possibly fluky nine decent starts their rotation would be close to an Orioles-level hot mess. Of the relievers currently in their bullpen, only two have ERAs below 4. That does not include their closer, former Oriole Bud Norris.
We all know what would fill the "What's not" section for the Orioles. They are a team with problems, but so is everybody else. The O's have enough good things going for them that they have the potential to make it an interesting August and September, especially if they are able to stay afloat during this west coast road trip.
The Orioles aren't a great team this year. They could still end up being good enough. No one else in the second wild card picture is any better.