I would have gladly bet a whole load of money that the following three events would all occur sometime between Monday and Wednesday: (1) The O’s would lose a game;
(2) The A’s would win a game; and
(3) The Yankees would win a game.
I imagine most Oriole fans would have taken that bet as well. Playoff contending teams tend not to get swept when they still have a shot at the postseason (we will pretend that the Chicago White Sox do not exist for the sake of this exercise). Just because all of that came true on Night #1 doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to play out on Tuesday and Wednesday as well. We knew that those things were going to happen, the fact that they all happened Monday shouldn’t change anything.
If this playoff run doesn’t give me a heart attack, it might very well lead to an onset of baseball-related dementia. I feel like I have been thinking the same things in my head, saying the same things out loud, and writing the same things on this blog for months now. I’ve thought, said, and wrote “Do not panic, let things play out, we are still in good shape . . .” so many times since August that it is just about driving me insane. It has been two months of reassuring myself, while trying to reassure others as well, that everything will be alright. So what is one more time?
Everything will be alright.
Listen, as I wrote yesterday if the Orioles win two games then they get the top wild card spot regardless of what happens anywhere else. That has not changed. If the A’s go 1-1 over their next two and the Orioles win out, then they host Oakland on Friday. If the A’s in win out, they win the AL West and Texas finishes one game behind the O’s in the 2nd wild card position. All of that is still in play.
The Rays are eliminated. I do not think that will necessarily help the Orioles – Joe Maddon is the last manager who will allow his team to lay down before the finish – but it will not necessarily hurt. Maddon managed last night’s game like the Ray’s playoff chances relied on the win because they did rely on a win. There is at least a chance that intensity will be dialed back a notch or two. More importantly is that the past two months, the O’s have risen in the face of adversity on almost every single occasion. Last night, the Rays had their backs against the wall. Tonight, the O’s find themselves in a similar – if not as desperate – position. There is little reason not to have faith that the Orioles will give it all they have to bounce back tonight.
That is not even getting to the Yankees. One Yankee loss coupled with two wins by Baltimore puts us right back in the one game tiebreaker spot on Thursday. Yes, the Red Sox ran out a lineup last night that more closely resembled a AAA squad than a Major League team, but tonight they have Jon Lester on the mound and hopefully at least one of Ellsbury and Pedroia back in the lineup. The Jays were running out AAA-level teams as well against the Orioles and Yankees and still managed to take three (nearly four) our of seven. This is baseball – on paper talent level doesn’t always determine the winners and losers.
Then there is Texas, now fighting for their lives to stave off the Athletics in the American League West race. One bet I definitely wouldn’t take is that Texas will go down without much of a fight these next two games. If the A’s lose their next two, then the O’s simply need to take one game from the Rays to win the top wild card.
The clearest way to put it this – there are 27 possible scenarios for how the next two games will unfold between the four playoff contenders (NYY, Texas, Athletics, and Orioles). Of those 27 possibilities, thirteen result in the Orioles being the 2nd wild card team, five give them the first wild card, three give them the East outright, two give them a play-in game for the AL East where the loser becomes the 2nd wild card, and four give them a play-in game and the loser gets the 1st wild card. 14 of the 27 possible scenarios for the next two days result in the Orioles AT LEAST having a chance via a play-in game not to be the 2nd wild card. 12 out of 27 guarantee the Orioles will not be the 2nd wild card. That does not scream hopeless for me.
The other takeaway from this data (yes, I actually just spent 20 minutes typing out a matrix of all the possible results), is that a lot relies on the Orioles themselves. If the Orioles go 2-0, there is not one scenario that does not give them at least the top wild card spot and their chances are split 33% across getting Wild Card #1 outright, having a play-in game for the AL East and the loser getting Wild Card #1, and winning the AL East outright. If the O’s go 0-2, they can only get the second wild card spot. If they go 1-1, then it is a bit of a crapshoot with the following odds: 0% of AL East outright, 11% of Play-in Game & Wild Card #1, 22% of Wild Card #1, 22% Play-in/Wild Card #2, and 44% of Wild Card #2. That means the Orioles, even if they go 1-1, still have a 56% of winning the AL East or getting the top wild card.
We all want to see a guaranteed game at all – believe me, I want it as much as anyone. It is still within reach these next two games. It is even still in reach if the O’s have to travel to Oakland for the wild card game. The Orioles have not lost three games in a row since July 25th. This Orioles team has played well enough that we should be not fearing that every win is their last and that every loss is the start of a big losing streak. Remember – many thought the O’s were done when they dropped the first two to the A’s in Oakland. They ended up winning six in a row after that. Many thought it was done when they dropped three out of four to the Red Sox and Jays, but all the Orioles did after that was rattle off four wins in a row. It is the ultimate sports cliché, but it really isn’t over until it is over.