Friday, September 14, 2012

O's keep cruising along, reach 81-win mark

I don't know exactly what to say about this awesome, improbable Orioles season, but man, is it a lot of fun. Yesterday, the O's won yet another one-run game, this time in 14 innings. And, oh by the way, they've also now won 13 consecutive extra-inning games, which is just ridiculous. To top it all off, Manny Machado's walk-off single gave the O's 81 wins, meaning that with 19 games left, they're going to finish above .500 for the first time since 1997.

This isn't supposed to be happening. Not only did the O's not look all that talented heading into this season, but they're far from fielding their best possible lineup. With Nick Markakis lost at least for the rest of the regular season, Nate McLouth is batting leadoff -- and getting the job done. But even before that, he was batting third, and he wasn't doing a terrible job. Lew Ford may be the team's best right-handed bat off the bench. Machado, only 20 years old, is playing a phenomenal third base after basically not playing the position in the minor leagues, and while not getting on base a ton, he's demonstrated some power and has come up with some timely hits. Pedro Strop and Darren O'Day have transformed into lethal late-game relievers. Brian Matusz seems more comfortable in the bullpen and is actually getting hitters out, routinely. And all Taylor Teagarden does is get hits in important situations. I could keep going, but all that matters is this: The O's are getting great performances at just the right time from so many different, random names, and they're doing this without a handful of their best players.

Against all odds, the wins keep coming. About a month ago, I looked at the O's remaining 44 games and how difficult it would be for them to stay in the playoff race. Here's what they've done since:

2-1 at Detroit
1-2 at Texas
2-0 vs. Toronto (one game rained out)
3-1 vs. White Sox
2-1 at New York
2-1 at Toronto
2-2 vs. New York
3-0 vs. Tampa Bay

That's a 17-8 record, which is absurd.

At 81-62, the O's are currently tied with the Yankees for first place in the AL East, one game behind the A's for the top wild card spot, and 3.5 games up on the Angels in the second wild card spot. After a playoff berth looked incredibly implausible a month ago, the O's now, according to ESPN's playoff odds (provided by, have a 72 percent chance of making the postseason. The O's huge three-game sweep against the Rays reduced Tampa Bay's playoff chances to about 27 percent, but again, there's still about three weeks left to go, so anything is still possible. And it's not like the O's haven't been defying odds all season long, so it'd be foolish to close the book on other teams until they're officially eliminated.

After a nine-game road trip in Oakland, Seattle, and Boston, the O's have a seven-game homestand (four against the Blue Jays and three against the Red Sox) before three final games in Tampa Bay. Depending on how both teams fare between now and then, that could be an enormous series. But, for now, the O's still have a lot of work to do, and they're guaranteed of nothing. But, considering they were all but guaranteed to finish last in the AL East, finishing over .500 is fantastic.

But this is no time for settling for simply a winning record, as weird as that is to say. This is Birdland, where meaningful September games are played, apparently.