The Orioles are playing like they’re trying to make the 2020 season weirder than it already is.
They lost to the Mets 7-6 on Wednesday to split the two-game set, which, in any other year, would fly under the radar as an Orioles-Mets game in September would be expected to do. But not only was Wednesday’s game exciting from start to finish, it carried real playoff implications with it.
Even with the loss, the Orioles are still within striking distance of a playoff spot nearing the season’s end, a bet that seemed so improbable at the start of the year it would’ve been easier to just play the lottery instead.
Now the Orioles, even at 20-22, are still in the thick of the playoff chase with just 18 games to play. And it makes absolutely no sense.
“We definitely left runners on base,” manager Brandon Hyde said of Wednesday’s loss. “I thought we took really good at-bats again. Wish we would’ve punched a couple more across, but give credit to the Mets and the defense they played. There was outstanding defensive effort that stopped a lot of rallies and prevented a lot of runs. That play that (Michael) Conforto made has got to be one of the plays of the year.”
The most notable footnote about the Orioles’ loss was that it snapped a four-game win streak. And frankly, it was a game they should’ve won.
The Mets had multiple incredible defensive plays that prevented either runs or baserunners, and sometimes both. If it weren’t for those plays, the Orioles would almost certainly be at .500 once again.
But with a four-game set against the Yankees upcoming, the Orioles trail their American League East rivals by just a game-and-a-half. If the Orioles win the series, they’ll end the weekend in the AL’s final playoff spot and ahead of the Yankees.
Whether in a 30, or 60, or 162-game season, the Orioles being realistic playoff contenders in September — with a monster series against the Yankees upcoming — seems absurd under any context. Pay no mind to the fact that they’re below .500, and still currently out of a playoff spot, this season has offered more than anyone thought possible.
And that’s what has made the Orioles special.
They’ve gotten stellar at-bats from players they didn’t expect. The pitching has been, in spots, excellent. Young players have been called up to make their debuts, and have not only played well, but have surpassed expectations by significant amounts. They grind out wins, they play hard, and they’ve shown the ability to win games that a lesser team would lose.
In a vacuum, that’s what made Wednesday’s loss so weird. The Orioles aren’t simply content to be just competitive.
“I’m really comfortable with.. we had a lead, I’m comfortable with the guys we brought in, I thought we matched up well and it just didn’t happen tonight,” Hyde said. “We had other scoring opportunities, they played great defense and hats off to them for winning that game. They really won it defensively.”
Just a few months ago, an Orioles loss that included three hits from DJ Stewart and four from Ryan Mountcastle during a stretch with standout pitching would be viewed as a completely positive outcome. Expectations have since flipped.
“It definitely feels like the postseason,” starting pitcher Jorge Lopez said. “I think we have a pretty good team. We’re looking forward to playing every single day. Very excited for every single day. Unfortunately today was not our best day. But it does feel like a playoff atmosphere. We’re very close to playing .500 baseball, I think we can do that and hopefully we can continue to play well.”
With what could be a make-or-break series against the Yankees upcoming, the Baltimore Orioles, projected by some to not even reach the 20-win mark, are headed to the Bronx in September to not only diminish the Yankees’ playoff prospects, but to boost their own.
What a weird year indeed.