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Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Extra! Let's talk about the Orioles

By David Schoenfield

The Baltimore Orioles have won 12 straight extra-inning games. Which is many shades of awesome, but also from the files of "But ... but ... that shouldn't happen."

But it has happened.

We can no longer deny: The Orioles are not going away quite so easily. Yes, we keep pointing to their terrible run differential -- minus-54 runs! -- and they keep telling us know-it-alls to take that run differential and stuff it in our pockets alongside our calculators and leaky Bic pens.

On Tuesday at Camden Yards, the Orioles trailed the Mariners 7-2 after Zach Britton got roughed up. That run differential looked like it would take a turn for the worse. Then Matt Wieters homered. And then J.J. Hardy tied it up with a three-run homer. And then the bullpen took over and the game went extra innings. A questionable call at first base, a little blooper to center field, a sacrifice bunt, an intentional walk of Chris Davis to pitch to Adam Jones (what was Mariners manager Eric Wedge thinking?) and a line drive misplayed in right field. Orioles 8, Mariners 7.

Twelve in a row in extra innings. Nine scoreless innings from six relievers. The Orioles are tied for a wild-card spot and are just 4.5 games behind the Yankees. Baseball. I'm done making predictions. The more we know the less we know.

OK, back to that run differential. Eric Karabell and I discussed the Orioles for several minutes on the "Baseball Today" podcast earlier Tuesday. Orioles fans keeping asking when we're going to show them a little more respect. A little love.

Here's the deal. We're trying to be impartial when we analyze these things. We don't hate the Orioles. We're not rooting against the Orioles. Personally, I'd love to see them make the playoffs; I believe it's good for baseball to get new teams in the postseason and the Orioles haven't been there since 1997 (which, as every Orioles fan knows, happens to be their last winning season).

However (you knew this was coming), only four teams have ever made the playoffs while getting outscored. Of course, the extra wild card changes that dimension a bit, as the necessary win total to make the postseason goes down. Here's what I did. I looked at three of those four playoff teams and every team since 1969 that won 85 games while being outscored (leaving out the 2005 Padres, who won 82 games while getting outscored by 42 runs, but aren't really germane to the Orioles since 82 isn't getting them into the playoffs).

It doesn't happen often, which is why us number crunchers constantly refer to run differential as a general sign of team strength and indicator of future results. The teams:



The only team that comes close to Baltimore's minus-54 total is the 2009 Mariners, who somehow won 85 games while getting outscored by 52 runs. That Mariners team ranked last in the league in runs scored but first in runs allowed; like this year's Orioles, they were exceptional in one-run games. However, the Orioles aren't exceptional in any phase of the game: they're 10th in the AL in runs and 10th in runs allowed.

The team's strength is the bullpen, especially when the games go extra innings. The Orioles are second in the AL in bullpen ERA, behind only the A's. Manager Buck Showalter has been forced to use them in heavy dosages due to the weakness of the Baltimore starters, and the Orioles rank third in the AL in relief innings.

Of course, what has happened up to this point for the Orioles, while relevant, isn't the whole story. As Orioles fans will point out, the team is in the playoff chase and that's all that matters, no matter how they did it. The question: What do they have to do moving forward?

Let's say it will take 88 wins to make the playoffs; I think it will take a couple more than that, but, hey, maybe the Angels and Tigers aren't as good as most people think and never get on a big roll. To win 88 games, the Orioles have to go 29-23 over the final 52 games. Can they go 31-21 to win 90? My argument is they can't; Orioles fans will suggest that Miguel Gonzalez (3.80 ERA in 47 innings) and Chris Tillman (5-1, 2.38 ERA in six starts) help make the rotation respectable. Maybe so. Regardless, the Orioles will have to play better then they have; you can't keep relying on extra-inning miracles.

Then again, as one of my bloggers, Alex Convery, tweeted as the Orioles won their 12th straight extra-inning game: "Would explain their record despite the run differential. Sometimes you have a lucky game. Sometimes you have a lucky year."

As our blog friends like to say: You can't predict baseball. This sport has been around a long time. Something always happens we haven't seen before. Maybe the 2012 Orioles will be that team.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
Jose Valverde
He may not often make it look easy, but Jose Valverde does love notching a save.