A co-worker of mine who is a big Orioles fan came over to my desk this morning. He said "Thirty-Six" and nothing else. I gave him a confused look and a raised eyebrow, but he just repeated the number. "Thirty-Six". So I bit and asked what exactly "thirty-six" is. "The Orioles magic number", he said.
It is a little early for magic number talk. Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. Although admittedly these days, that is far easier said than done.
It is August 15th and I am finding the need to constantly remind myself not to get overly excited about the Orioles playoff hopes – not this soon. My worries have turned from making the postseason to getting too comfortable with the idea that they will make the postseason. I need to remind myself that the season is far from over. That It hasn’t been easy because the fact of the matter is the Birds are in a rather comfortable position in the standings and the prospect of a playoff run is well within reach.
With 43 games left on their schedule, the O’s have a 7.5 game cushion on the second place Toronto Blue Jays and an 8.0 game lead on the New York Yankees. ESPN lists the Orioles odds of reaching Major League Baseball’s postseason at 93.3%. Baseball Prospectus gives Baltimore a 94.6% chance of at least reaching the American League wild card game. Even the least optimistic of the three – FanGraphs – gives the team a 91.8% chance of making the playoffs and a 89.1% chance of winning the AL East.
The odds are certainly in their favor.
Making it even more difficult to resist the temptation to look ahead is the fact that the O’s play their next 26 games versus teams that are currently playing at .500 or below. With 43 games total to go in the season it means the Orioles will see a lot of teams that haven’t won much this season. It is easy to look at that and conclude that what is already a comfortable lead should get more comfortable. I am trying my hardest, however, to avoid words like “should” or “will” right now. There is no need to get ahead of ourselves here.
For one, while losing such a lead is relatively rare it is not unprecedented. The 2014 Orioles bear little resemblance to the 2011 Red Sox. At the same time, it is worth noting that through 119 games those Red Sox had a 73-49 record, were a ½ game up in the AL East, and nine games up on Tampa Bay who held the (at the time, the only) wild card spot.
We all know how that turned out for Boston.
As the odds show, something like that happening is not a high probability occurrence but it can happen. What has a much greater chance of occurring is that the Orioles – currently riding high as winners of eight of their last ten, fourteen of their last twenty, and twenty of their last thirty – will hit a rough patch before the year is out. That rough patch could be a three game losing streak or something far more extended like a 20-game period of .500 baseball, but in any event they are likely to experience some bump in the road relative to their current level of play.
That’s one reason why I keep reminding myself to stay grounded. The baseball season is unpredictable and performance (in terms of wins and losses) has a tendency to fluctuate to the bitter end. The more I keep my feet on the ground now, the less tempted I will be to leap off a bridge later on if the O’s do experience some turmoil. Believe me, I am enjoying every second of the Orioles current position. I am just trying to remind myself that the rest of the road might not be completely smooth, even if it appears that way right this second.
The factoid going around on how the Orioles play 26 straight games against teams currently .500 or below and 29 of their final 43 against those teams gives me the most pause. When a fan-base starts celebrating what appears to be an easy schedule, it often ends in disappointment. This is Major League Baseball where any team can win on any given night. The Cubs or White Sox are as capable as winning a series from the Orioles as any team. Those games against “losing” teams also include opponents like the Rays, Indians, and Reds who might have losing records but are also fairly talented clubs. If baseball were as simple as the teams with winning records beating the teams with losing ones, well, then nobody would watch.
The road is never as easy as it seems. It is never wise to expect a team to glide to the playoffs, particularly when there are 43 games still left to be played.
Having said all of that, the odds are what they are because the Orioles have positioned themselves well. Even if they do slump, they have gotten a nice enough lead that it won’t necessarily be time to press the panic button if they have a three game losing streak. The Blue Jays have 40 games left to play compared to the Orioles 40. Using 90 wins as a benchmark, the Orioles have to go 21-22 (.489 winning percentage) over their final 43 to reach 90 total wins. The Jays meanwhile, would have to go 27-13 (.675 winning percentage) over their final 40 to get to 90 wins. When you look at it that way, it becomes clear why the odds say what they currently say about the O’s playoff chances.
There is a lot of baseball left. Nothing is guaranteed yet; nothing is set in stone. Let’s just hope the Orioles continue to play good baseball and stay (or get in some cases) healthy. The rest then will take care of itself.