The fact that the Baltimore Orioles are still in the playoff hunt despite having been outscored by 39 runs this season absolutely defies all conventional baseball logic. The Orioles are 73-58, just two games back of the New York Yankees in the AL East race, and they’ve been the hottest team in major league baseball over the past 30 games, posting a 21-9 record.
The Orioles have a Pythagorean win-loss record of 61-70, meaning that they should be nine games under .500 given the number of runs they have scored and allowed this year. Run differential is typically an extremely strong indicator of a team’s projected wins and losses in a given season, as 22 of the 30 teams in baseball are within three games of their expected win-loss total. Other than the Orioles at +12, the next-best team in the game is the Cincinnati Reds at +5, and the worst is the Houston Astros at +6, which speaks volumes to what manager Buck Showalter has been doing with the team this season.
Last year, four teams tied for the greatest number of wins over their expected total by winning six more games than they should have. In 2010, the Astros – believe it or not – led the league with plus-eight wins. In 2009, the Seattle Mariners were first with 10 wins. The last time a team exceeded its expected total by as many as 12 games was the 2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but they won 100 games and it’s quite common for a team to win significantly more games than they should have when they’re that good, simply because it’s tough to have a run differential good enough to indicate a 100-win team.
The last time a team exceeded its win total by at least 12 games AND should have been a sub-.500 team was the 1984 New York Mets, and no team has had an expected win ratio of MORE than 12 games since the 1905 Detroit Tigers exceeded their expected win total by 14 games. This means the Orioles are doing something regularly that no team has done in 100-plus years.
The O’s are 24-6 in one-run games, and they’ve won 13 in a row. The next-best winning percentage in one-run games is the Cleveland Indians, who are 15-8 (although their .652 winning percentage is still .148 back of the Orioles). In fact, the Orioles have the best winning percentage in baseball history in games decided by one run.
The Orioles are 18th in the major leagues in runs scored, 23rd in batting average, and 26th in on-base percentage. They’re 23rd in earned run average by their starters, 18th in strikeout to walk ratio, and 28th in home runs allowed. They have benefited largely from a terrific bullpen (3.07 ERA ranks sixth-best in the major leagues), All-Star seasons from franchise players Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, and some truly unforeseen great seasons.
Recently signed minor league free agent Miguel Gonzalez has moved up to the starting rotation, where he is 6-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts. The O’s came out on the winning side of the Jason Hammel for Jeremy Guthrie trade – Hammel is 8-6 with a 3.54 ERA in 18 starts while Guthrie was so awful for the Colorado Rockies that they shipped him off to the Kansas City Royals. Japanese import Wei-Yin Chen is 12-7 with a 3.78 ERA in 26 starts, and those players and the bullpen have been enough to make up for awful seasons from starters Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz.
The O’s have 31 games remaining. All but six of those are against their division. If they can maintain their tremendous record in one-run games, they may have a shot. The fact that closer Jim Johnson is 41 on 44 in saves has certainly contributed to their success in winning close games, and Jones seems to have an uncanny ability to hit home runs in extra innings.
Even if they don’t make the playoffs though, it’s been an absolutely incredible run, and it all but guarantees that Showalter will win the Manager of the Year award.