How O's stack up vs. rest of wild-card contenders

With just over a third of season left, Orioles among 7 teams within 5 games of a playoff spot

August 02, 2012|By Eduardo A. Encina, The Baltimore Sun

TAMPA, Fla. — — Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he doesn't pay attention to the standings until August.

For the past 14 seasons, Orioles fans haven't had the need to either, their team usually already long out of contention by this time of year.

"I haven't looked at them today," Showalter said before Wednesday's series finale in New York against the Yankees, holding back a smirk, "but I have an idea."

With two months to play, the Orioles find themselves in a tight playoff race. The addition of a second wild-card spot in each league makes it even more interesting. Entering Thursday, seven teams were within five games of the American League wild-card lead, five of them within 11/2 of one another.

And for the Orioles, it's time to pay attention to the standings.

"We're in it, and that's all you can ask for," catcher Matt Wieters said. "You want to have that shot. You want to be able to play for your way into the playoffs. That's the big thing. It doesn't matter whether you're playing the Yankees or playing Tampa or whether we're playing anybody. We just need to win games, and that's how you're going to get one of those playoff spots. And this year with that extra playoff spot, you've got to keep winning games and hopefully at the end it works out."

It's a long haul — one that will reward the teams that build the best body of work throughout the season. While the Orioles' surge this season has been surprising, this year has still been a roller-coaster ride.

"There's no other sport like [baseball] where you play so many games and anything that you have will show up, your strengths and weaknesses, if you just give the baseball season time," Showalter said. "There's not as a long a period between dry spots. You just try to stay away from those deep chasms, shorten the bad times and stretch out the good ones."

But right now, a lot of teams have a fighting chance — the Orioles among them.

As the stretch run of the season begins, here's a look at how the AL wild-card contenders stack up. The division leaders — the Yankees, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers — are omitted simply because they all entered the day with leads of at least 21/2 games. All records are heading into Thursday night's games.

Angels

Record: 57-48 (in first wild-card spot by percentage points)

Games left remaining against teams over .500: 39 of 57 (68 percent)

Trade-deadline acquisitions: Los Angeles got the deadline's most coveted arm in right hander Zack Greinke. As important as acquiring him was making sure that the division-leading Rangers did not.

Why they make the postseason: Because they keep getting better. Adding Greinke to a rotation that already included Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson gives them three ace-caliber pitchers. With Rookie of the Year favorite Mike Trout as a catalyst, their 107 runs — and .481 team slugging percentage — since the All-Star break lead all of baseball.

Why they don't make the postseason: If they don't handle their business against the surging Oakland Athletics, who play the Angels 10 times in the final two months, they could find themselves outside looking in.

Key stat: Trout is the first rookie to score at least 80 runs and drive in at least 55 runs through his first 81 games of a season since the Yankees' Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

Athletics

Record: 56-48 (in second wild-card spot)

Games remaining against teams over .500: 35 out of 58 (60 percent)

Trade-deadline acquisitions: As always, the A's had a lot of feelers out at the deadline, looking for a bat to improve their lineup. The extent of that was adding light-hitting catcher George Kottaras.

Why they make the postseason: Along with the Orioles, the A's are the party-crashers in the wild-card hunt. But they do belong here, mainly because of an AL-best 3.46 team ERA. They are 13-5 since the All-Star break, the best record in the AL, and their 30 homers since the break rank third in baseball.

Why they don't make the postseason: Their offense is last in the AL with 415 runs and is prone to lengthy droughts. The A's pitching appears legit, but they are apt to lose some low-scoring games with their erratic, strikeout-heavy offense.

Key stat: The A's lead the majors with 12 walk-off wins and are 18-9 in games decided in the last at-bat.

Orioles

Record: 55-50 (11/2 games back of wild card)

Games remaining against teams over .500: 41 out of 57 (72 percent)

Trade-deadline acquisitions: They added now-injured designated hitter Jim Thome a few weeks ago and were close to getting Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Joe Blanton, but the Orioles weren't willing to pick up enough of his remaining contract.

Why they make the postseason: Because they continue to remain in the race without playing well consistently. The Orioles are 20-6 in one-run games, have won 10 straight extra-inning games and have eight wins when trailing after seven innings. Even though their bullpen has struggled since the break, it still keeps them in games.

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