Each day, BaseballReference.com not only updates player and team statistics around baseball, it projects playoff teams, even at this early stage of the 2020 season.
On Thursday morning, Oriole fans who scanned the site were in for a surprise when they saw their favorite team projected as one of five American League wild-card teams along with Cleveland, Houston, Tampa Bay and Chicago.
We know it’s too early to think about the postseason, even though the 60-game regular season will be a third complete for the Orioles after Saturday night’s game against the Washington Nationals. But the Orioles have won five straight, are 10-7 and, with the exception of a few games against the Marlins and their opener, have exceeded expectations. And, they’ve been fun to watch.
The schedule is so bizarre that by the time the weekend series with the Nationals ends, they’ll have played 13 of their 21 games against the National League East—six with the Nationals, four against Miami and three with Philadelphia.
Beginning Monday, the Orioles play 32 of their final 39 games against the American League East. So far, they’ve played three games each with Boston and Tampa Bay and two against New York.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, who was part of four postseason teams with the Chicago Cubs from 2015-2018, knows it’s too early to be discussing playoffs, even this season.
“I think that we’re still so early in the season, and we have a really tough schedule the rest of the way, and I just want to honestly focus on winning today and winning as many series as we can, and whatever happens, happens,” Hyde said on Thursday in a pregame video conference call.
Of the Orioles’ 10 wins, three have come against the Rays, who won 96 games last season, three against the Phillies and two each against Boston and Washington, all considered playoff teams this year.
On Friday, the Orioles will resume Sunday’s suspended game against the Nationals — cut short when Washington’s grounds crew struggled with the tarp during a rainstorm — with a 5-2 lead and runners on first and second with one out in the top of the sixth. The Nationals, who are the defending World Series champions, are 6-9 after losing to the Mets on Thursday.
A year ago, Washington had an awful start, 19-31 in its first 50 games. The Nationals’ 60-game record of 27-33 wouldn’t have qualified for a 60-game postseason.
Through 60 games in 2019, four teams close to .500 would have been wild cards in the American League — Boston (31-29), Cleveland (30-30), Oakland (30-30) and Texas (32-28).
Of those, only the Athletics, who won 97 games, and Tampa Bay made it to the wild-card game.
It’s possible that teams at—or even below .500—will play in the new best-of-three wild-card round of a 16-team postseason. All games are scheduled to be played on the higher seeds’ home fields, although there are reports that Major League Baseball is considering a postseason bubble, where games would be played at neutral sites.
Orioles third baseman Rio Ruiz said his team is trying not to look ahead.
“We’ve been playing some good ball, man,” Ruiz said. “We’ve been playing some hard teams, some unreal lineups, some big arms. We’ve just been getting the job done. Obviously, we’d love to continue that from here on out.”
When the Orioles’ 60-game schedule was released, the conventional wisdom was that the only team they could count on beating was the Miami Marlins. Miami lost 105 games in 2019. Baltimore lost 108 a year after losing 115.
The Marlins, who had 18 players test positive for Covid-19 after the opening weekend, didn’t play for eight days. When they resumed, they beat the Orioles four straight in Baltimore, making the Orioles look inept.
After this weekend’s series against the Nationals, the Orioles have 10 games against Toronto — seven in their temporary Buffalo home — eight with the Yankees, and seven each against Boston and Tampa Bay.
They have seven games against National League teams — four games with the New York Mets, two in Baltimore and two at Citi Field, and three with Atlanta.
But it’s those games against the Yankees that stick out. If the Orioles are to play beyond September 27th, the final date of the regular season, they’ll have to break their 18-game losing streak against New York, which is a team record against an opponent.
And, they’ll have to do more than just end the streak. They’ll have to win multiple games against the Yankees.
They next play New York in a doubleheader on September 4th at Camden Yards to begin a four-game series.
“I’m pleased with our play so far this year,” Hyde said. “I’m proud of our guys. I think we’re playing hard. I think we’re playing hungry. I think our guys are improving.
“We’re in a tough division, and this is a tough league, and we have a tough schedule, and we’re not going to back down from anybody. We’re going to continue to play hard. We’re going to see where we are at the end of this thing. I’m not looking too far ahead.”