19 September 2013

Are the Orioles Playoff Chances Dead?

The Orioles are currently 10 games out of first place in the American League East with 11 games remaining.  The Red Sox basically have the division wrapped up, as their magic number to clinch the division sits at 3.  However, as of this writing, the Orioles find themselves in a dogfight for one of the two wild card spots, along with five other teams.  The current wild card standings look like this, with each teams chances of making the playoffs (as determined by ESPN) in the column to the far right. 

While Baltimore is now only 1 game behind the Rangers for the second wild card spot, the 17.2% chance of them making the playoffs isn’t too encouraging.  The large number of teams chasing down these remaining playoff spots contributes to the low chances of the Royals, Yankees, and Orioles to make the playoffs, and ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski recently wrote two articles outlining each teams chances (here and here, Insider access required and recommended), in addition to the difficulty of making the playoffs with several teams in front of you, despite only being a couple of games out.*  

*On a side note, after writing about the Orioles all season, and referencing Szymborski’s projections several times, I am now proud to say that I can finally spell his name correctly without having to check and make sure I was right.

In the story that specifically looks at the Royals playoff chances as of September 9, despite being 3.5 games back, jumping 4 teams with less than a month remaining is a tall order, and Szymborski gave the odds of that happening at just 3.7%.  Luckily, as it currently stands, Baltimore only has to jump in front of two teams, although that still remains a difficult task with only 11 games remaining.

Another factor in the playoff percentages above is the remaining schedule for each of the contenders.  You have probably heard by now that the Orioles have one of the hardest remaining schedules of the contenders, while Cleveland has the easiest, and this is by all accounts true.  After last night’s games, the Indians finish the season against the Astros, White Sox, and Twins, who are collectively 103 games below .500.  On the other hand, the Orioles finish up with Boston, Tampa Bay, and Toronto.  While Cleveland’s remaining schedule is noticeably easier than Baltimore’s, the Orioles have an advantage that the Indians do not.  Four of their remaining games are against the Rays, one of the 3 teams directly in front of them, giving them an opportunity to gain considerable ground in the race, provided a favorable outcome.  Additionally, Baltimore’s final 3 games are against a Red Sox team who may have home field advantage locked up by that point, allowing them to rest some of their starters prior to the playoffs. 

Admittedly, the title of this article portrays a negative stance on the Orioles chances of making the playoffs this year.  And while the playoff odds aren’t currently in their favor, I believe they’re in a great position to grab one of the wild card spots. With a little bit of help and a strong performance against Tampa Bay, I believe there is a good chance that we could see playoff baseball in Baltimore for the second straight year.  So to answer the question posed in the title, the Orioles playoff chances are not dead…they’re far from it.


Jon Shepherd said...

To clarify the difficulty of the situation:

You have the Indians with a .539 winning percentage going against the Astros (.336), White Sox (.395), and Twins (.430). Using the Log5 projection Bill James came up with, you have a base expectation of the Indians winning roughly 7 games and losing 3.

The Orioles have a .536 winning percentage and face the Red Sox (.601), Rays (.550), and Jays (.457), which leads up to a base expectation of 5 wins and 6 losses.

This is just considering these two teams. When you begin to incorporate all the other teams in the equation, the Orioles need to nearly win out over the next couple weeks to make the playoffs with several teams performing under expectations. For those reasons, being one game back might be more daunting than it originally appears.

Unknown said...

For what it's worth, about a month ago I believed that the Orioles' weren't capable of winning a wild card berth, but they were the team most likely to take advantage if other teams lost it. I think that's still accurate - if Texas continues and Cleveland enters free-fall, the Orioles will make the postseason. Otherwise, not.

Liam said...

It seems like there's a decent chance that two or more teams finish tied for the last wc spot. Is there a play-in game if that happens, or is season series used as the tie breaker?

I thought we were done a few weeks ago, but no other team has really seized the opportunity to take over. Texas just went 9-1 and the Rays haven't been lighting it up either.