Orioles beat reporter Jon Meoli discusses the Orioles’ three-game sweep of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park after their tense 2-1 victory Sunday afternoon. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
As the Orioles pointed out last time they dragged themselves to an even win-loss record earlier this month, not many teams can go .500 over an entire season and find themselves playing in October.
Getting to that point after not having been above it since mid-June, however, is a small step for anyone looking to pull positives heading into the final five weeks of the season. At 65-65 with 32 games to play, the Orioles are in the only place they can expect to be after things went so sour for so long in the middle of this season.
"It's August," center fielder Adam Jones said. "Late August. We're just trying to get ourselves to September 1st in a solid position. We know what the atmosphere is like playing here. We just try to play our game and try to get to Sept. 1 with the position to make a move at somebody."
More and more, their place seems to be in the mix for the postseason, and they'll have to navigate a schedule full of fellow playoff aspirants to get there. Manager Buck Showalter bristled at the idea that a team who is a few games above .500 with a negative run differential, which would likely describe the Orioles should they earn the second wild card, could be described as mediocre.
If the Orioles do get in, it won't be because they backed in.
Starting with the three games against the Seattle Mariners (66-65), who are a half-game ahead of the Orioles in the wild card standings, the Orioles face a team that's still trying for a playoff spot in essentially every series left.
The farthest out of any team they'll play is the 61-69 Toronto Blue Jays, who come to Camden Yards this weekend six games out of the second wild card. Eight more games against the Tampa Bay Rays (65-67, three games out), seven games against the wild card-leading New York Yankees (70-59), plus three games against the division-leading Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians in September mean the Orioles have a difficult road to the postseason.
Perception was that the last few weeks of their schedule, with seven games against the Oakland Athletics and six against fellow wild card pursuant Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, was the leaner part of their schedule. They ended up going just 6-7, with a series loss to the Mariners in between.
According to FanGraphs, that long stretch and their three-game sweep of Boston this weekend left them with an 8.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, which among wild card teams is behind the Yankees (89.3 percent), Minnesota Twins (31.2 percent), Angels (20.6 percent), Kansas City Royas (16.7 percent), Mariners (15.1 percent), and Rays (8.6 percent). Baseball Prospectus has them even lower, at 7.4 percent.
That mixes in their rest-of-season projection with their current record, and no analysis of the Orioles can look past their season-long starting pitching issues.
Yet here they are again, looking to find a way to fly in the face of that and qualify for the playoffs again.
"That's what you play for," Jones said. "You want to play teams that are just as hungry as you, that are fighting for something like you. The Mariners, Angels, Rays, Toronto — there's about six or seven of us right now that are just fighting for our lives trying to get into that Wild Card game.
"At the end of the day, I'm an optimist and always look for the division because you get a couple days off to relax and get a guaranteed series. Any way we get in, it doesn't really matter. We've just got to get in. We're a month away from deciding it."
"It's all about grinding like heck to have a chance to roll the dice in October," Showalter said.