As the Orioles’ historically awful 2018 season winds down, two points of view have emerged among their fan base.
Some are holding out hope that the Orioles will avoid the ignominy of finishing 2018 with the worst record in the majors.
Others figure that if the Orioles are destined to lose, they might as well be the worst so they can claim the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s amateur draft.
Either way, it provides at least one interesting storyline to track for the 37-94 Orioles during the final few weeks of the season.
Only one team is anywhere close to the Orioles in the basement of the league standings: the Kansas City Royals, who are currently three games better than Baltimore. Last Friday morning, the Royals were within just half a game of the Orioles’ futility, but they took two of three from the Cleveland Indians over the weekend to put some separation between themselves and the O’s, who were swept in four by the New York Yankees.
The third-worst team in baseball, the San Diego Padres (50-83), are an insurmountable 12 games ahead of Baltimore. So if there’s any hope for the Orioles to avoid the worst record in the majors, surpassing the Royals is their only chance.
Around this time last year, when the Orioles and Royals were on the fringes of the postseason hunt, I analyzed the September schedules for those two clubs and the other AL wild-card contenders. So, let’s do it again this year now that the two teams are again in direct competition — albeit for a very different (and dubious) title.
Granted, analyzing the schedules of these two clubs can only tell us so much. By definition, every single team the Orioles and Royals play against is better than them (except when they play each other). Still, we can notice a few trends that might help us predict how the rest of the season will play out.
Games remaining: 31
Remaining vs. teams .500 or better: 19
Remaining vs. teams below .500: 12
Season record vs. remaining opponents: 21-57 (.269)
The schedule doesn’t get any easier down the stretch for the Orioles, who have at least one series remaining against every AL East team. Three of those teams are a combined 93 games over .500, and the other — the Toronto Blue Jays — has dominated the Orioles this year, winning 12 of 13 games.
At least the Orioles’ final six games against the Jays are in Baltimore; they don’t have to return to Rogers Centre in Toronto, where they were 0-10 this season. And the Orioles’ remaining three-game series against the best team in baseball, the Boston Red Sox, doesn’t come until the final week of the season. By then, the Red Sox will have already locked up the No. 1 seed throughout the playoffs and likely will be resting their regulars.
There are three AL West teams still clawing for playoff berths, and the Orioles face all three — Seattle, Oakland and Houston — in September. They’re a combined 0-10 against those clubs. That Mariners series is part of a strange road trip Aug. 31-Sept. 9 in which the Orioles first go to Kansas City, then all the way out to Seattle, then circle back to the East Coast for a series in Tampa. That’s a circuitous travel route for an Orioles team that is 16-50 on the road this year.
There are very few clubs that the Orioles have a winning record against this season, and they don’t face any of them after Sept. 2. There’s really not any series you can point to as a likely Orioles’ series win. Perhaps their best bet is a three-gamer against the lowly Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards from Sept. 14-16. The Orioles split a four-game set in Chicago in May.
Games remaining: 31
Remaining vs. teams .500 or better: 7
Remaining vs. teams below .500: 24
Season record vs. remaining opponents: 24-34 (.414)
The Royals, as atrocious as they are, have the luxury of playing in a division with three other terrible teams. They have at least six wins apiece against AL Central foes the White Sox (whom they face for one more series this year), the Detroit Tigers (two more series) and Minnesota Twins (two more series). You can make a convincing case that if the Royals played in the AL East and the Orioles in the AL Central, it’d be Kansas City who had the league’s worst record at this point.
The schedule also favors the Royals in that they have two remaining interleague series against losing NL clubs, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates. In fact, for the rest of the season, the Royals face only one opponent with a winning record: the Indians, whom they play for three games in Cleveland and four in Kansas City. The latter series is the last one of the season, and the Indians will have long since clinched the division by then. They’ll also most likely be locked into the No. 3 seed for the playoffs, so they’ll have nothing to play for and might field a lineup full of backups.
There’s one series that everyone will be watching with bated breath: a three-game showdown between the Orioles and the Royals from Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Kansas City. This one’s for all the marbles. It’s a golden opportunity for each team to prove that it’s better — or at least, slightly less inept — than the other. When the two clubs previously squared off in Baltimore in early May, the Orioles took two of three.
If the Royals win that upcoming series, they can all but seal the Orioles’ fate as the worst team in baseball. Even if they don’t win the series, it’s hard to see them slipping behind the Orioles in the standings. Their creampuff schedule for the rest of the year, combined with the Orioles’ arduous one, should help the Royals tack a few more wins onto their meager tally.
The schedule makes it pretty clear. The Orioles, barring an unexpected stretch of competence, are almost certain to finish 2018 with the worst record in the majors.