So, just how flukish are the Orioles?
The Baltimore Orioles currently sit at 66-55. If the season ended today, they would make the playoffs, as they are currently edging Oakland by a half game for the second wild card.
The Orioles have also been outscored by 43 runs. Their expected or Pythagorean record is 56-65 – or, about the reciprocal of their actual performance.
The Pythagorean estimate is just that – an estimate. Hardly any team is ever dead on, but generally speaking, it’s within a couple games. Very rarely do teams that get outscored actually make the playoffs.
The Orioles are currently on pace for 88 wins – about midway between two of the most over-performing teams of all-time: the 1987 Twins and the 2007 Diamondbacks.
The ‘87 Twins were proof that anything can happen once you just sneak into the post-season. The squad won a very weak AL West at 85-77 (they would’ve been fifth in the AL East). They were outscored 806-786 and they went a pitiful 29-52 away from the Metrodome. But they dominated the AL East champion Tigers (who, as you’ll recall, gave up John Smoltz to make it to the post-season) in five games, and used their home-field advantage to great effect in the World Series against the Cardinals, going 4-0 at the Metrodome and 0-3 at Busch Stadium.
The 2007 Diamondbacks were a little bit different. Also outscored by 20 runs, the Diamondbacks edged the Rockies and Padres to win a tight NL West and actually sported the best record in the league at 90-72 and made it to the NLCS before being swept by the ultra-hot Rockies. They featured the once-solid Brandon Webb who was in the middle of a 3-year stretch where he won a Cy Young and was twice the runner-up, and a good bullpen. Their offense was led by Eric Byrnes…which should tell you everything you need to know.
All in all, 15 teams in all of Major League history have done what the Orioles are on pace to do: over-perform their expected win-loss by at least 10 games. Five teams in Major League history have made the playoffs with a negative run differential and only the ‘87 Twins and ‘07 Dbacks have won a post-season series.
Should Orioles fans be excited, or fearing some sort of regression?
I’ll say this for them: they’ve made it to game 121 with 66 wins. Their 1-run wins (23 of 29) and extra inning wins (12 of 14) happened and they aren’t going away. It’s not like the Orioles are expected to lose a bunch of games to finish at 75-87 just to make everything right in the universe. An expected regression would still leave them with a winning record and an outside shot at a playoff berth.
And secondly – they have one quality that has a tendency to make a team over-perform. No, it’s not “spunk” or “charisma” or “scrappiness.” It’s also not luck – at least not all luck. It’s an outstanding bullpen. Sporting a 3.01 ERA, 1.233 WHIP, and 2.48 K/BB as a unit, the Orioles bullpen has a great ability to hold close games; contrast this with, for example, the Milwaukee Brewers, who’ve given up just slightly more runs than they’ve surrendered, but are 12 games under .500 due to over 20 blown saves by a bullpen that will surely go down as one of the worst of all-time.
Gun to my head, I predict that the Orioles will miss the playoffs, with the Rays, and either the A’s or a second place AL Central team squeaking into the toss-up game. But it’s fun to watch teams like this – and root for them too – because a sport where everything falls into place exactly as it should all the time wouldn’t be as enthralling to follow.