Based on projections from FanGraphs, the Baltimore Orioles are expected to finish the season with an 85-77 record. With 15 games left in the season they would have to go 7-8 and that doesn’t seem all that unrealistic of a prediction. Coming into the season the expectations were high, playoff-bound high, but the 86 win mark was thrown around quite a bit as a more realistic analysis of the team began to surface.
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Now, I don’t want to get into the ‘we were so close but more work needs to be done’ essay, mostly because that’s likely coming soon, because there’s still a chance for the Orioles to have a strong finish to the season and secure a wild-card spot. It looks like it will take at least 89 wins to do just that and that would then mean the Orioles need to win 11 of their next 15 games.
Between April 25 and May 10 the Orioles went 10-5 in a 15 game stretch, where they played the Oakland Athletics, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Angles, Kansas City Royals, and a game against the Minnesota Twins. Only two of those teams in that list are competing for playoffs spots currently and each of the remaining three are at least 15 games out of first place. Needless to say, they’re bums in the world of baseball right now.
During the final 15 games of the season the Orioles play the Boston Red Sox six times, the Toronto Blue Jays five times, and the Tampa Bay Rays four times. I don’t want to go on record and say that the Orioles have too tall a task in front of them, schedule wise, to go 11-4 the rest of the way, but I’m also not willing to go on record saying that they will.
I’m not being a defeatist, just managing expectations.
What about the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Rays though? What’s going on with them that may spell good news for the Orioles based on the timing of their meetings?
If the Blue Jays had performed as expected before the season, being the Kings of Winter and all, then it would be them that we would be talking about and not the Red Sox. No games are a gimme in baseball, regardless of how things look on paper, but the Blue Jays are having difficulty scoring runs in the month of September.
In addition to an ailing offense, the starting rotation has failed to go deep into many games this month averaging under six innings in their starts. Their bullpen has their own issues to worry about and that mostly has to do with command. The rotation isn’t getting deep into games and the bullpen is walking nearly 10 percent of the batters they face.
The Red Sox have been the highest scoring team in the American League since the calendar turned over to September. However, over the past week the offense has cooled enough to possibly matter. During the first week of September the Red Sox accumulated 3.7 offensive WAR but over the last week they’ve accumulated just one. They still have the best offense in baseball so lets not completely underestimate them, but it’s important to note the Orioles will be catching them on a bit of a downturn.
As far as the Rays are concerned, they are hitting .208/.318/.344 over the past week and are 5-7 in games played so far this month. That’s pretty much the only knock on them because they have one of the more complete teams in the American League aside from the Red Sox. They can dominate you with pitching and beat you that way, even without an offense firing on all cylinders at the moment. The Rays are also the team that the Orioles are chasing down for that second wild-card spot. The four games they play each other are of the utmost importance to each team and will more than likely decide the second wild-card spot.
There are a few good things going for the Orioles right now, which give them certain advantages over each of these teams. They are batting .264/.312/.445 through the first half of September and have the fourth best overall offense in the American League. The Orioles also have one of the best bullpens in baseball, with a 2.31/2.54 ERA/FIP through the month so far, which allows them to hold onto leads late in the game more often than not.
The Orioles aren’t out of it by any means, they still control their own destiny, but we are officially at the point in the season where every game actually does matter. Every single game remaining on the team’s schedule holds playoff implications and has the potential to dramatically shift the playoff picture around, for better or for worse.