Teams back, not games, is biggest obstacle

INSIDE PITCH

September 01, 1995|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

For the most part, the race outside the real race generally has created more optimism than interest as far as the Orioles are concerned. And it may be nothing more than false hope.

This wild-card business might work someday, but not until some teams other than the division leaders are able to post records beyond mediocrity. More than a little luster is tarnished when more than half the teams competing for a fourth playoff spot are below .500.

That's the case in the American League, home of the runaways. In their own division, the AL East, where the real competition is supposed to take place, the Orioles are third in a five-team division, 17 games behind Boston.

However, in the newly created wild-card division, the Orioles are only five games behind, after last night's loss. But that number is grossly misleading, because in this race they are in seventh place.

With 29 games to play, a five-game deficit, though formidable, is not overwhelming. But in this case six is an immensely larger number.

That's how many teams the Orioles have to pass in order to qualify for postseason play. The odds against that are staggering.

The Orioles conceivably could make up five games on the Rangers, an overachieving team that has struggled since the All-Star break. Catching five others in the process is a much more arduous task.

With so many teams involved, usually at least two are facing each other on any given night, making it virtually impossible to make significant gains. And every loss guarantees lost ground to some.

This is nothing like a two-team race, where wins and losses often counter one another. Which is why it is pointless for the Orioles to be concerned about whatever team happens to be leading the wild-card race.

For the Orioles to have even a remote chance of surviving, they first have to put some teams behind them. They cannot keep clinging to the hope that the deficit is only four or five games.

It's the number of teams, not games, that matters. It's impossible to make up five games on six teams at the same time. And every series they lose to a team ahead of them, as they did against the Oakland Athletics, works as a double setback.

At this point, the only thing that can salvage the season for the Orioles is a prolonged winning streak -- one that most likely would have to reach double figures. That's the only way they can possibly gain ground on six teams.

And if they don't put at least half of those teams behind them within the next two weeks, the parody chase, otherwise known as the wild-card race, will be over.

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