The Struggles Continue, But There’s Still Hope
As much as I would like to say I’m getting ready for a September where the O’s close the books on their second division championship in three years, I can’t confidently write I believe that will happen. The 2016 regular season is winding down, and the Orioles have just 33 games remaining; 23 of which are against teams either holding a playoff spot, or within 3 games of one. As of the end of play on Saturday, the Orioles sat in third place in the American League East, three games behind the Toronto Blue Jays. They currently hold the second Wild Card spot in the AL, however, they only have a half game lead over the Detroit Tigers, who are hosting the Angels tonight. It is more than obvious that if the Orioles want to be playing baseball deep into October, they are going to need some serious contributions from top to bottom.
Sure, it’s easy to say that, and repeat the tune like a broken record, but do the Orioles actually have it in them to make it to the postseason and make a deep run?
Since the All-Star break, the Orioles have posted a 19-22 record overall but more importantly, they are 10-15 away from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. In order to win in the postseason, you need to be able to win on the road. Take for example, last year’s World Series champion Kansas City Royals. On their way to their second World Championship, the Royals posted an overall record of 44-37 on the road. Also, take a look at the current American League East leading Toronto Blue Jays. They’re three games up on the Orioles, with a 34-28 record away from Rogers Centre. I’ve talked about it all year long, and unfortunately if you can’t win on the road, you normally watch October baseball from home.
The struggles of this Orioles team that has spent 111 total days in first place go way beyond road wins and losses though.
In Spring Training, it was well aware that the Orioles were going to be a home run hitting club. As a matter of fact, they now have three players (Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and Mark Trumbo) who have hit 30 or more home runs before September for the first time in team history. As a team, the Baltimore Bombers have mashed 202 total home runs this season, their fifth consecutive season in hitting 200 as a club. As great as all of these round trippers may be, it is apparent they do not have a pitching staff capable of getting the club to the postseason.
In a season where everybody knew that the starting rotation would be questionable, the O’s front five (or six, seven, eight, or nine – depending on how you look into it) have been nothing short of average. Okay, they’ve been less than average. Looking at the nine pitchers that have started a game for the Orioles this season, the starting rotation has an ERA of slightly less than 5.5. I didn’t look this up myself, but I did see someone tweet the last team to make the postseason with a 5.xx rotation ERA was the 2001 Cleveland Indians.
It’s not worth continuing to talk about how bad the pitching has been this year. We’re all aware. It is worth mentioning though, that there is still a chance to make the postseason.
The Orioles have proven this year that even with poor starting pitching performances, they do have the fight in them to control ballgames, and finish on top. They have also proven that they are able to beat the clubs that sit at the top of their respective divisional standings. In games against current division leaders, the O’s are 18-14, taking the season series from the Indians, Dodgers, and Nationals, and currently are 6-7 vs. Toronto, and finished 3-4 against the Rangers. The O’s did not have a series this season vs. the NL Central leading Chicago Cubs.
The point of that paragraph is to show that even with the 23 games remaining against teams leading a division, or still in contention, there is still hope that the Orioles can pick their play back up, and head into October with a playoff spot awaiting. Major League Baseball asserts an “E#” for a reason. For those of you that don’t know, the E#, or Elimination Number, is calculated by the number of games a first place team must win, combined with the number of games the current team must lose to be eliminated. For example, if the Orioles have an E# of 31 (which they do), they are eliminated from postseason contention if the Blue Jays need win 31 more games, or the Orioles lose 31 more.
Plenty of times in years past, division titles have been won by teams eliminating a large deficit (sometimes of double digit games) and eventually taking over first place. As for the Orioles, the hope is still there, and the thought of postseason baseball at Camden Yards should still be in the minds of ALL fans cheering this team on.