Sports

The Baltimore Orioles are a beautiful mess that makes absolutely zero sense

Might not look it, but there are reasons to be optimistic about these Birds.
Illustration: Getty Images

The Orioles are not a good team. They haven’t been a consistently great team since the late ’90s. Sure they had that one season in 2014 where they got swept in the ALCS after winning their first division title in 17 years, but were only good for that one season. The Orioles have finished either 4th or 5th in the AL East 16 times since 2000. They have reached the playoffs just three times since the turn of the century, and have won only one playoff series. It’s been a pretty rough couple decades.

In 2021, much like the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Orioles have a 20-game road losing streak. At the halfway point of the season, they are sitting at the bottom of their division. They have the worst per-game run differential (-1.3) of any team in the American League. They were the only team in the league to be given a 0 percent chance to make the playoffs at the start of the season.

Despite all that though, the Orioles have done something no other team has. At the very start of the season, the Orioles swept the Boston Red Sox — the current leaders in the AL East. Since then, only the Houston Astros have been able to take every game of a series against the Red Sox. The Astros, by the way, have only been swept by two teams as well: the Detroit Tigers and…the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s right. The Baltimore Orioles are the only team to have swept two MLB division leaders. Even better, despite the fact that the Orioles are 15-28 on the road this season, Baltimore achieved both of those sweeps… on the road!

It seems like 2021, more than any full season in recent memory, has topsy-turvy nonsense happening every other day. The Giants are leading their division more than halfway through the season. The Yankees are a bigger joke than anything Dane Cook has ever said. Washington’s Kyle Schwarber and Texas’s Joey Gallo are on incredibly hot streaks after horrendous starts to the season. And Buster Posey is having the best season of his career at age 34 (Posey has an MVP, and yet this is his best start to any season he’s ever had).

We all knew the Orioles were going to be bad. Aside from Trey Mancini and John Means, nobody was expected to do anything of value for this team. Yes, I know Ryan Mountcastle had potential and Cedric Mullins (should be starting the All-Star Game by the way) is doing remarkable things, but neither of them were expected to be serious factors in 2021. But even with incredibly low expectations, the Orioles have arguably done worse. FanGraphs projected the Orioles to win 67 games, PECOTA: 68, FiveThirtyEight: 63. Even a handful of Orioles analysts projected the team to win anywhere between 64 and 73 games prior to the season. Baltimore is currently on pace to win 54.

The Orioles have been victims of an awful schedule thus far. Did you know that the Birds have the fewest losses against teams under .500 this year? That’s a fact. Their six losses against teams with a losing record is fewer than anyone else. The Angels have seven such losses, the Rays have eight, and the Dodgers have nine. That being said, the Orioles still have a losing record against losing teams. They are 5-6 on the season. They have only played 11 games against bad teams — 13 fewer than the next closest team: the Los Angeles Angels. That means Baltimore has also been forced to play more games against good teams than anyone else. They’ve played 17 more games against teams better than .500 than any other team in the league, and that’s a big reason why the Orioles have 48 losses against winning teams — 13 more than anyone else.

Unfortunately, the second half of the season isn’t much kinder to Baltimore. Of the 81 games remaining on the Orioles’ schedule, 49 are against teams over .500. In a sense, this is actually the best-case scenario for them. It was obvious that Baltimore was not going to compete this season, so having to play an incredibly tough schedule means that:

  1. You’re gonna get a fantastic pick in the draft.
  2. You have an excuse for why your team is performing poorly.
  3. You and your fans have reason to be happy about the future.

The series sweeps play a big role in that as well. The fact that the Orioles can not only keep up with the Red Sox and Astros, but actually dominate them over a short stretch shows the potential that this team has.

I’m a huge believer that Anthony Santander will bounce back from this awful season, and return to his 2020 form. I have no reason to believe Cedric Mullins will regress drastically (his power numbers will probably dip in 2022), and Means has the potential to be a bonafide ace. There are a lot of good pieces on this team. If the Orioles can maintain those key pieces, and their top prospects like Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson can live up to their potential, then there’s no reason to think this Orioles team couldn’t compete for division titles in just a few years. They won’t be the laughingstock of the American League much longer.

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