A Look at the Birds’ Path to the Playoffs: Are the Baltimore Orioles Serious Contenders in 2022?

This article was written during the All-Star break, before the second half started.

No one expected the Orioles to compete for a playoff spot in 2022. Last year they went 52-110, which was good for the worst record in the entire MLB. But somehow, the Orioles, despite not making any huge free agency splashes of any kind, have hung around on the edge of contention this year. So far, they’re 46-46. Despite having only played 90 games–just over a half of a season, they have already compiled almost the same amount of wins this year that they did in 2021. And while a winning percentage of .500 isn’t enough for them to make the playoffs, they’re far from out of contention.

The Orioles, who are a member of the AL East, would have a very rough, if not impossible road to winning the division. The division leader, the Yankees boast a .696 winning percentage, leaving the O’s 18 games behind. Gaining 18 wins on a team like the Yankees is simply not feasible. But the AL Wild Card race is wide open. The current American League Wild-Card spot holders are the Rays (.554), the red-hot Mariners (.548), and the Blue Jays (.538). However, the Red Sox (.516) and Guardians (.511) have spots higher than the Orioles. The Seattle Mariners are on a 14-game win streak, and are currently what one might call untouchable. But the Orioles have been on a tear recently as well, and they don’t need to beat out every wild-Card spot. They just need one.

But is this a realistic expectation? At 46-46, the Orioles are vastly overachieving expectations, so does calling for them to win their way into a playoff spot have any merit? To do so, they’d have to realistically go at least 38-32 (.543), which would get them to a .519 winning percentage and find them on the edge of a Wild-Card spot. Mathematically speaking, they could technically get in with less, but judging the current state of the division it seems unlikely. But regardless of how the other teams’ records play out, the Orioles are going to need more wins than losses in the second half of 2022 to have a shot at the playoffs. And in all likelihood, they’re going to need to cross the 40-win point to have a good chance at getting in.

Let’s look at it this way. Hypothetically, let’s say the teams slightly ahead or on the same level as the Orioles keep up their current margins. That would leave the highest of the bunch, the Red Sox, looking at 84 wins. To surpass 84 wins, the Orioles would need to go 39-31 in the remainder of the season to finish with 85 wins. Alternatively, they could also go 38-32, and maintain their 5-3 tiebreaker over the Sox. Now, considering the Orioles meet that standard, all we have to worry about are the three Wild-Card teams. The Blue Jays are on track for 87 wins, the Mariners 89, and the Rays 90. If we take it as a fact that the Orioles win at least 84 games, that would mean at least one of these teams would have to drop below the Orioles. The O’s currently have a 5-7 record against the Rays, with 7 games remaining. If the Orioles are able to win 5 of those 7 games, they would be in place for a tiebreaker, meaning the Rays would only have to finish at 84 wins, 6 games below their pace of 90. If the Orioles are unable to go 5-2 against the Rays, which is the more likely scenario, the Rays would need to fall 7 games below their pace to finish with 83 wins. The Orioles have a 2-4 record against the Mariners, without any games left to play. The Mariners would have to fall 6 games behind their pace of 89 wins to finish at 83. The O’s are 2-1 against the Blue Jays with 12 games remaining, if the Orioles won at least 6 of the games, they would be in place for a tiebreaker. That would mean the Jays would have to drop to 84 wins, only 3 games below their pace of 87. While this certainly sounds feasible on paper, the Blue Jays are one of the best teams roster wise. But the fact is; it doesn’t matter which team falls, it only matters that one team falls.

So, essentially, for the Orioles to make the playoffs, three things need to happen. First, and most importantly, the Orioles need to win games: at least 38 of the 70 remaining on their schedule by my calculations. Second, one of the three wildcard teams needs to fall behind. And third, the teams ahead of the Orioles that DON’T have wildcard spots need to keep up their current pace of 84 wins or fewer.

The Orioles team has managed a .500 win percentage against all odds, having a quiet preseason and not only that, losing their best pitcher, John Means, to season-ending injury. And while it does beg the question, if .500 is overachieving, how can they win .543 in the second half? However, part of the .500 winning percentage is misleading. In their first 59 games, they won 24: good for a paltry .408 winning percentage. However, in their last 33, they won 22, or .667 percent. There’s no question that the Orioles have been on a tear recently, and that’s something that has to be considered when looking at their second half aspirations.

The Orioles are a very young team, and almost all of their players are stepping up. Jorge Lopez, who had a 6.07 ERA as a starter in 2021, has stepped up as the Orioles closer in 2022 and posted a 1.62 ERA with 17 saves. 2021 AL ROTY (Rookie of the Year) candidate Ryan Mountcastle has continued to excel, hitting 21 doubles and 14 home runs in 311 at bats to go with a .270 batting average. Rookie Tyler Wells has a 3.38 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP over 85.1 innings as the Orioles top starter. Dean Kremer has bounced back from a 7.55 ERA in 2021 with a 2.59 ERA over 41.2 innings in 2022, and while his 1.32 WHIP might foreshadow a future regression, he is still pitching incredibly well. While Cedric Mullins is having a down year, he’s still been an important asset, and outfielders Austin Hays and Anthony Santander have both played incredibly well so far. And that’s not even to mention the excellent rookie campaign catcher Adley Rutschman is having. D.L. Hall and returning veteran Matt Harvey have been fantastic in the minor leagues, and Harvey could be a candidate to join the O’s rotation at some point this year. Harvey, who went 6-14 with a 6.27 ERA in 2021 with the Orioles, is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and 28 strikeouts over 28.2 innings this year in the minors.

The fact is, the Orioles are over performing. They’re over performing by a lot. But they are riding a hot streak right now, and if they can continue to ride that streak, they will have a chance in 2022. The odds are against them. But they’ve recently been beating the odds at every chance they get, so who’s to say they won’t do it again?

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