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What needs to happen for the Orioles to make it into the postseason?

The Orioles are in a six team mix for the three AL Wild Card spots. They need to find their way to at least 85 wins.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Against any expectation or hope that just about anyone would have confessed to four months ago, the 2022 Orioles find themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot with about a third of the season left to be played. They have gone from 35-44 after the two Jorge López losses to begin July to 58-52 now. After yesterday, the Orioles are tied for the third wild card spot, though they lose the tiebreaker. They’re only two games removed from the first of the three wild cards.

What happens next? That’s going to be up to the Orioles. If they can keep playing as well as they’ve been playing since this season really seemed to take off with the arrival of Adley Rutschman, maybe they can do it. Orioles fans may forever fear the 4-32 tailspin from the end of the 2002 season, or more recently, the 4-19 collapse to close out the 2017 campaign. I am trying not to think about it and enjoy this pleasant surprise for as long as it lasts.

The target

Let’s start with a goal in mind for the Orioles to meet or exceed. One place where three big baseball sites that do postseason projections agree right now is the threshold for the third wild card spot: 85 wins. That’s what’s at Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA, and FanGraphs.

The Orioles need to go at least 27-25 over their final 52 games to end up with 85 wins. They may need to do better than this if some of the competition below them gets hotter than any of these models expect from now on. You never know, maybe the Orioles can be the team that’s hotter than expected.

The competition

There are currently six teams that are in the mix for the American League’s three wild card spots. The Blue Jays, Mariners, and Rays hold the positions right now. The Orioles are chasing, along with whatever two of the three AL Central teams don’t win that division: Guardians, Twins, and White Sox. Four games separate the team with the best record of this group (Jays) from the worst (White Sox).

The Orioles will have some opportunities to gain ground on some of these teams directly. They’ve got a whopping 13 games remaining against the Blue Jays, and still have a three-game series against each of the Rays, Guardians, and White Sox.

The challenge

The fact that the Orioles have opportunity to gain ground on teams is part of their problem. They have the toughest remaining strength of schedule of any team in the American League, contender or otherwise.

In addition to remaining games against the wild card competitors, the Orioles have got all seven of their games left to play against the Astros and three more to play against the Yankees. There are also 11 games left against the Red Sox, who may be in last place in the division, but not by that much. They’ve got the best record of any division’s fifth place team.

On the extreme opposite end, you’ve got the Mariners, who have the weakest remaining schedule of any team in MLB. Seattle has nine games to come against the Athletics, seven against the Angels and Tigers, six against the Rangers, and even three games against the Royals and two against the Nationals. They should be able to coast into their first playoff berth since the 2001 season.

The Twins, Guardians, White Sox, and Blue Jays all have an average remaining strength of schedule under .500 as well, if not as extreme as the Mariners. Only the Orioles and Rays have to play better-than-.500 teams on average. The Rays still have nine games to play against the Yankees.

The big questions

Are the Orioles going to bring up any more prospects to try to help this team down the stretch?

24-year-old outfield prospect Kyle Stowers is hitting .273/.367/.553 for Triple-A Norfolk, with 19 homers. It feels like it’s his time, though the Orioles regular outfield doesn’t have any obvious strugglers. Pitcher D.L. Hall is a possibility if the Orioles don’t want to think about his walk rate too hard, and if you’re feeling optimistic about Grayson Rodriguez having progressed to throwing off a mound, he could help in the closing weeks too.

There’s also some clamor for 21-year-old infield prospect Gunnar Henderson, now the #1 prospect in baseball per Baseball America. He’s hitting .289/.403/.522 since being promoted to the Tides. If you’re ready to see him, you’re not the only one.

Can the bullpen hold together after a heavy workload and with the Jorge López trade putting everyone in new roles?

So far this season, Orioles relievers have thrown the fifth-most innings among all MLB teams, more than 40 innings above the average team’s bullpen workload. It’s over four innings per game the team has played. This has worked out up to now, with the O’s having the third-best bullpen ERA in baseball at 3.10. I think it’s dangerous to assume this will continue if they are still expected to cover four innings per game over the final two months.

Will the starting rotation continue to be able to keep the team in games?

Right now, the five guys taking turns in the rotation are Jordan Lyles, Spenser Watkins, Dean Kremer, Kyle Bradish, and Austin Voth. Bradish might have been the only one of these names to excite you before the season based on recent minor league results. The others are a collection of guys where you wouldn’t be surprised if they were the rotation for another 100+ loss Orioles team that everyone expected.

Unlike the relievers, this is not a group that’s been succeeding relative to the competition. For the season, Orioles starters have the seventh-worst ERA in MLB at 4.54. The improvement is vast compared to previous seasons. That’s especially true if you look only since the start of June, where the O’s rotation ERA of 4.25 is just about exactly middle of the pack in the league. The O’s have enough else going for them that an average rotation can get them places - if these guys can continue to be average collectively.

The tiebreakers

The rules have changed in the current baseball CBA. There are no more Game 163 scenarios. Ties are resolved without playing any extra games. The first priority tiebreaker is head-to-head record. If teams played an even number of games against each other and split them, the next tiebreaker is record against their own division.

The Orioles went 2-4 against the Mariners this year, and 3-4 against the Twins. They’re on the wrong end of a tiebreaker against these teams, if it comes to that. They are 1-2 against the Guardians. The final series will settle how that ends up. If they end up tied in the season series with the Guardians, they will likely lose out on that second tiebreaker: Cleveland is 27-21 in its division games. The Orioles are currently 22-24 against the AL East.

For now, the O’s have the head-to-head edge over the White Sox (3-1) and Blue Jays (4-2). They’re tied with the Rays at 8-8. Those tiebreakers will also be settled by the remaining games these teams play. If the Orioles end up on the wrong end of all three of these tiebreakers as well, things will have probably gone poorly enough that the tiebreaker scenario won’t matter in the first place.

The chances

As of Thursday morning, the sites mentioned above have the following postseason chances for the Orioles:

  • Baseball Reference: 50.0% (has not updated for Thursday as of this writing)
  • Baseball Prospectus/PECOTA: 30.4%
  • FanGraphs: 7.2%

Each of these odds are different because of the different assumptions they are making about the Orioles team. B-Ref playoff odds use only the last 100 regular season games of performance. If you look at that, the Orioles are a 55-45 team, which is an 89-win pace over a full season. No wonder they’re a coin flip.

PECOTA and FanGraphs, on the other hand, are still weighting some of the preseason expectations about the team and its players. It’s safe to say the Orioles are overachieving everybody’s expectations by a large amount. PECOTA has adjusted a bit: Now it thinks the Orioles will finish 24-26 from here on, or close to .500 against a strong schedule. That seems fair to me. FanGraphs is more pessimistic still, seeing a 22-30 finish for the Orioles.

With all that in mind, the final thought on this question belongs to you. Are the Orioles going to do this thing? Use your head or your heart as you see fit.


Will the Orioles qualify for the 2022 postseason?

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