After a weekend sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, the Orioles are headed out of the picture, and fast. With 19 games still to play, the Orioles now have a 4.3% chance of making the postseason, according to Fangraphs. They aren’t mathematically eliminated yet, but right now it’s like they’re skydiving and their parachute hasn’t come out. There’s time to spare, just not very much of it.
Although they only have a deficit of three games to make up against the Twins, thanks to the Twins losing to the Royals on Saturday and Sunday, the Orioles now find themselves with four teams to pass in order to claim the second wild card spot. The Royals’ good weekend has left them a half-game closer than the O’s.
The Rangers are a half-game ahead of the O’s as well, while the Angels are two games ahead. Let’s not forget about the Mariners, who like the Orioles are three games out from the Twins, and the Rays, who are only a half-game farther back than that. Not only must the Orioles finish the season by being at least three games better than the Twins the rest of the way, they have to be better than all of these other teams, too.
That’s going to be a tough task to pull off. It wouldn’t have been that much easier even if the O’s had managed to somehow win one of the three games in Cleveland and snap that winning streak before it could get close to the history books.
The problem for the Orioles is the same thing that has been a problem for them all year. For some reason, they stink on the road. It’s long past ridiculous at this point. Their 27-42 road record, if played over a full season of games, would result in a 63-99 record. Even the bad Orioles teams from 1998-2011 never lost 99 games, although they did lose 98 twice.
The Orioles still have to play 12 more games on the road, with only seven left to play at home. If they close out their road schedule by going 5-7, they would need to win all seven home games just to get to 83 wins, which may not even be enough.
That remaining home schedule includes three games against the Red Sox. The O’s are 10-6 against the Sox so far this year, so Boston is certainly beatable. Indeed, just about two weeks ago, the Orioles swept three games from the Sox in Fenway. But if they don’t want to need to win every home game, they need to be better on the road.
The other big remaining difficulty for the Orioles is their remaining strength of schedule. They just ran headlong into that problem this past weekend as their three games against a strong Cleveland team turned into three losses. The O’s will only have five of their remaining 19 games against teams that are completely out of the postseason picture.
So, the O’s have to win on the road, which they haven’t done much of this season, and they have to do better than tread water against some good teams while dispatching the bad ones.
Maybe one thing that could save them is that seven of their last nine games come against the Rays, who like the O’s are hanging on at the fringe. Those games don’t loom in the way that the recent Indians series did. If, when push comes to shove, the O’s are better than them, that could be the boost they need over the last week and a half.
Of course, the Twins have it even easier than the O’s do, as seven of their final ten games will come against a woeful Tigers team that has the second-worst record in the American League. They have to play just six more games against teams that are in the postseason hunt.
The only thing that the Orioles can do about this is win, and win a lot. The players seem to know this, if this Chris Davis post-game quote from the Baltimore Sun is any indication:
"At this point, we need to win every game. There's a lot stacked against us. We know that. But we're still in the fight, and like I said, we have to win every game."
They don’t have to win EVERY game, although it would be cool if they one-upped the Indians by winning 19 straight to end the season. They do probably need to win 13. That can be done, but it’s tough, especially with that road-heavy load to carry.
If the Orioles are going to do it, they’re going to need their offense to wake back up. The team has scored just 24 runs in nine September games so far. That includes their current four game losing streak, where they haven’t topped two runs scored. The pitching, meanwhile, is up to its old tricks, allowing an average of five runs per game.
You can’t win like that, so it’s no surprise that the Orioles aren’t. Chris Davis has a .566 OPS in September. With a .629 OPS in the month, Mark Trumbo isn’t much better. The Orioles have desperately needed those guys all year and they haven’t been delivering.
Not that they’re the only culprits, of course. I could write an article every day about how terrible the starting pitching has been and it would take a while to run out of material. The O’s rotation ERA has shot up to 5.62 for the season. That’s still the worst in the American League, as it has been all year, and it’s nearly as bad as the 5.69 ERA of the Reds starters, so they may yet claim the crown of worst in MLB.
Oh, and starting tonight as they try desperately to get back on track is Ubaldo Jimenez. If the Orioles DO overcome the odds to make the playoffs, no one will be able to say they didn’t earn it.