What the Orioles Need to do to Reach the Playoffs

With twenty-two games left in the 2012 regular season, we are finally at the point where we can say it – this next stretch will determine the Orioles’ postseason fate. As Tim pointed out earlier day, some folks have pointing to games, series, and stretches of games all throughout the season as big tests that would reveal just who the 2012 Orioles were or weren’t.  The truth was, none of those arbitrary markers really mattered.  For a team that is at .500 or better – as the Orioles have been all season – no one good stretch of games in May necessary ensures a team will make the playoffs.  Likewise, a losing streak in July does not necessarily sink a team either.  The MLB season is just too long to make those proclamations until we really reach the end of it.

Well, the Orioles have reached that end game. Tim mentioned that the Orioles have passed almost every test put in front of them thus far.  While true, they also haven’t necessary aced all of them either.  The O’s haven’t given themselves the kind of breathing room one would ideally have liked to see.  Equally important, however, is that they have kept themselves right in the playoff hunt.  The schedule has dwindled down just enough now that the Orioles playoff chances can be broken down in the clearest way possible.  There are three ways the team can go:

  1. Play over .500 during the final 22 games and likely grab a playoff spot;
  2. Play under .500 during the final 22 games and likely miss a playoff spot; or
  3. Play at .500 and leave their fate in the hands of other teams.

Why is this stretch of games the one that is really going to decide the Orioles’ fate?  The first and most obvious is because it is the last stretch of games.  It is also because the Orioles are 78-62 with 22 left to go.  The magic number for the second AL wild card appears to be about 90-wins.  If you take the four current contenders for the second AL Wild Card (excluding Oakland who holds the first wild card spot) and project their winning percentage through 140 games out over the next 22 games as a way of predicting their final win total, you get the following (rounded):

Orioles – 90 wins

Rays – 89 wins

Angels – 89 wins

Tigers – 85 wins

(On a side note, the Yankees are currently on pace for 91 wins and Oakland for 92 wins.)

In such a tight race, it is hard to imagine than all or the majority of the teams will underperform their 144-game winning percentages over the final 22 games to allow a team to earn the second wild card with less than 90 wins.  It is also not very likely that one of these teams goes a big run and along with Oakland, finishes with 93+ wins leaving wild card hope full teams with anything less than 93 wins out of the postseason.  Given that, 90-wins appears to be a safe marker for what it will take to get the second wild card spot.

It just so happens that with the O’s at 78-62 and 22 games remaining, that means if they win one or two more games than they lose from here on out, they will finish right about the magic number of 90 with 90 or 91 wins.  If they lose one or two more games they then win, the O’s will end with 88 or 87 wins and likely are left on the outside looking in during the playoffs.  If they win finish up at exactly 11-11, that means 89 wins and it is more or less left up to what the other contenders do as to whether or not the Orioles reach the playoffs.

Of course, it might not end up being that straight forward but the odds are that give or take a win or two, that is the scenario the O’s are looking at.  If you thought this season has been stressful so far, it is about to get a lot worse.  There is no more room for error.  Win more than you lose and put yourselves into a strong position to get a playoff spot.  Win less than win you and you are likely out.  It really is that simple for the Orioles from here on out.