Asked what it would take over the season’s final 25 games for the Orioles to make up the 4 1/2-game deficit they now face for a playoff spot, manager Brandon Hyde provided the obvious answer.
“It’s gonna take some wins,” Hyde said. “We’re gonna need to win.”
Doing so has been difficult this week, with Baltimore dropping four of its past five games, including three of four to a Toronto Blue Jays team it’s chasing for the American League’s final wild-card spot.
That 4 1/2-game margin now separating the AL East foes is not insurmountable, especially given that six contests remain between them. The Orioles, then, can make up that ground rather directly; six wins against the Blue Jays would constitute six games gained on them. Winning at least three would secure the season series, which would serve as a tiebreaker should the teams have identical records after closing the regular season with three games at Camden Yards.
Baltimore would also need to play well in its other games, with a remaining schedule that also features postseason aspirants in the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros and New York Yankees but also series with Washington Nationals and Detroit Tigers, both at the bottom of their respective divisions.
“It doesn’t matter what team it is,” right-hander Dean Kremer said. “We’re looking to at least split or win the series, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s the Blue Jays, the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Nationals.”
Based on current records of opponents, Toronto has a tougher remaining schedule, one that includes nine matchups with a Tampa Bay Rays team that holds the first of the AL’s three wild-card spots. A year ago, the Blue Jays themselves were four games out of a wild-card spot with 27 games to go but managed to get into playoff position less than two weeks later, gaining five games on the Yankees in that time. They didn’t hold that spot, missing out on a postseason berth on the last day of the season despite sweeping the Orioles in the year’s final series as they finished a game behind both New York and Boston.
Through 135 games last year, Toronto had an 18% chance of reaching the playoffs, according to FanGraphs. After the Orioles dropped their series with the Blue Jays, the site’s model had Baltimore making this year’s postseason field in 2.9% of its simulations, down from 8.3% before the Orioles were swept in Monday’s doubleheader.
FanGraphs’ methodology is partly based on projections of how players and teams are expected to perform; entering this season, the Orioles’ projected record was 63-99, the worst of any team by 4 1/2 games. The Milwaukee Brewers entered Thursday trailing both the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies by four games in the National League wild-card race but with a 19.5% chance of getting a wild-card spot; FanGraphs’ preseason projections had Milwaukee winning the division with a 90-62 record.
FanGraphs’ season-to-date projection model, which looks backward and weighs recent games more heavily, gives the Orioles a 21.4% chance of reaching the playoffs, similar to the odds offered from Baseball-Reference (22%, but nearly halved over the past week) and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system (24.4%). Baseball-Reference’s approach focuses on each team’s past 100 games and does not take roster composition into account, which the other methodologies do.
The odds, as these Orioles have shown throughout the season, only mean so much. Executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias cited the low likelihood of Baltimore actually claiming a wild-card spot in explaining why the club moved Trey Mancini, its longest-tenured player, at the trade deadline; Elias has since walked those comments back, both to the media and directly to players in visiting them on the road in Texas days later, and stated he believes in the team’s potential. The Orioles have gone 21-14 since the trade.
Keeping that pace over the next 25 games would net them 15 more wins, giving them 87 on the year. FanGraphs projects they’ll go 10-15, with Baseball-Reference and PECOTA each estimating about 13 more wins. This is the first year of both leagues having a third wild card, and although at least 90 wins would have been required to earn it in the past three full seasons, 87 would have qualified the extra team each year from 2014 to 2017.
The odds are long, but the opportunity remains.
“It’s going to be a competitive month,” right-hander Tyler Wells said. “But I think at the same time, too, it’s also going to be worth it in the end. I’m hoping that we continue to push and we continue to battle, and if we continue to play the way that we’ve been playing as of late, hopefully we can push and surprise a lot of people.”
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