One of the biggest mysteries involving the Orioles’ success this season is how they can be 18 games over .500 and yet have been outscored by 21 runs this year.
The easy answer is that they have won 27 games by one run and 22 more by two runs. And 23 of their 63 losses have been by five runs or more.
So they win close ones and get blown away in their losses.
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Only two other teams that are currently above .500 have a negative run differential – and both of those teams have won one more game than they have lost. The Philadelphia Phillies are 73-72 and have a negative-2 run differential and the Pittsburgh Pirates are 72-71 with a negative-4 differential.
The Boston Red Sox have a negative-18 differential – better than the Orioles – and are 65-80.
Ultimately, wins and losses are all that matters. And it’s not unprecedented for a team to have a negative run differential and make the playoffs. But it’s not easy.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, only six teams in baseball history have made it to the postseason after being outscored in the regular season: the 1981 Kansas City Royals (-8), the 1984 Royals (-13), the 1987 Minnesota Twins (-20), the 1997 San Francisco Giants (-9), the 2005 San Diego Padres (-42), and the 2007 Arizona Diamondbacks (-20).
Of that group, only one made and/or won the World Series, the 1987 Twins. Besides the Twins, only the 2007 Diamondbacks actually won a playoff game. They swept the Chicago Cubs in the divisional series and then were swept by the Colorado Rockies in the NLCS.
The other four teams were swept in their respective first rounds.
So having a negative run differential doesn’t mean the Orioles can’t make a long run in the playoffs. But history says it’s a tough task to accomplish.