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Orioles Face Difficult Road To Postseason

June 28, 2017
The good news for the Orioles is that they're back at .500 and 1.5 games out of the second wild-card spot. The bad news is that six other teams are 3.5 games or less out of that spot.
 
Since Major League Baseball added a second wild-card team in 2012, the Orioles have attained that spot twice -- in 2012 when they won 93 games and in 201 when they won 89 games.
 
The past 10 American League teams that have qualified for the wild-card have averaged just less than 90 wins a season, and no team has been a wild-card qualifier with fewer than the 86 wins the Houston Astros had in 2015.
 
At this point of season in 2016, the Orioles were 46-30, and they played .500 ball the rest of the way to barely make it into the postseason.
 
For the moment, the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins are the wild-card leaders. Both are within a game of first place in the AL East and AL Central.
 
Behind the Twins are the Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Orioles, and they're all within 1.5 games of the second wild-card.
 
The Seattle Mariners, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays are all behind the Orioles, and only the Blue Jays (36-40), who trail Minnesota by 3.5 games, are more than a game below .500.
 
Including the two wild-card leaders and those currently chasing them, that's nine teams -- the majority of the AL -- vying for two spots.
 
While the incentive of the wild-card is great, and you never know if a team can suddenly get hot in October, there are dangers that lie in the chase.
 
Yes, the calls for breaking up the Orioles may have temporarily been quieted, but in this environment, with so many teams contending, it's going to be difficult to make trades.
 
Things are radically different in the National League. The Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies are handily ahead of the others. The next-closest team in the wild-card race, the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs, are 6.5 games behind the Rockies for the second wild-card spot.
 
With more than half the AL dreaming of playing beyond Oct. 1, the Orioles will face significant competition in making deals to add to their starting pitching.
 
Of course, if they slump again they may have a lot of teams interested in their players.
 
Realistically, the Orioles are going to have to play much better if they're going to be a playoff team. It seems logical that some of the teams they're bunched with will go on hot streaks, and if they do, the Orioles will have to keep up.
 
Under manager Buck Showalter, the Orioles have historically played well after Sept. 1. In his seven seasons, the Orioles are 118-86 (.578) after Sept. 1, including a 54-33 (.621) mark in their three playoff seasons (2012, 2014, 2016).
 
Despite Showalter's protestations of bloated rosters, his Orioles teams have historically performed best late in the season.
 
Now that right-hander reliever Darren O'Day is back and left-handed closer Zach Britton is scheduled to return a week from now, the Orioles should begin to play better -- as long as their starting pitching perks up, that is.
 
They're missing first baseman Chris Davis and shortstop J.J. Hardy, both of whom are on the 10-day disabled list. There's no timetable for Davis' return from a strained right oblique, and Hardy's broken bone in his right wrist could keep him out until late August.
 
However, Trey Mancini is playing well at first in Davis' absence, and, for now, the Orioles are winning with defensive specialist Paul Janish at shortstop.
 
In 2014, the team coasted to the AL East title despite missing three key position players -- Davis, catcher Matt Wieters and third baseman Manny Machado -- for significant parts of the season. Wieters didn't play after May 10 due to Tommy John surgery; Machado was lost Aug. 11 with a knee injury that required surgery; and Davis was suspended Sept. 12 for using Adderall without a prescription.

Helping to offset those injuries were five starting pitchers -- right-handers Kevin Gausman, Miguel Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Chris Tillman and left-hander Wei-Yin Chen -- with an ERA of 3.65 or lower.
 
This year, the Orioles' only reliable starter -- right-hander Dylan Bundy -- has a 3.73 ERA. The rest of the rotation -- Gausman (6.07 ERA), Tillman (8.39) and right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez (7.26) -- all have inflated ERAs.
 
Yes, the Orioles are mathematically alive for a wild-card spot, but they're going to have to pitch significantly better than they have thus far if their postseason aspirations are to come to fruition.