Under normal circumstances, a team like the 2020 Orioles would have been the longest of long shots to make the postseason. In the middle of a rebuild, nobody would've picked Baltimore to finish anywhere but fifth in the AL East.
But this is 2020. We throw all preconceived notions out the window.
In a 60-game season and an expanded playoff format, the 14-15 Orioles find themselves in a playoff race. Led by Anthony Santander, Pedro Severino and Hanser Alberto, the Orioles have become baseball's Cinderella story as we approach the midpoint of the season.
Whether they can follow through and make the playoffs is another question, though MLB Network analyst Bill Ripken, brother of Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., likes the Orioles chances if they can keep swinging the bats well.
"In a 60-game season, all your warts won't show," Ripken said. "I think they've got some guys on the offensive side that can swing the bats a little bit, and if you get three or four guys swinging the bats at the same time like they were earlier, you make this big push."
The Orioles rank seventh in the league in batting average, 15th in on-base percentage and seventh in slugging percentage. They're also top 10 in home runs, hits and are middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts.
Santander has been a major surprise this season with 10 home runs so far, just one behind American League leaders Jose Abreu, Nelson Cruz and Teoscar Hernandez. If this year were 162 games, a slump would probably be inevitable. But as Ripken explains, you can hide your warts in a shortened season, and the O's are in a good spot to capitalize on such a circumstance.
"With the way this thing is set up with eight teams on each side getting in, I think sure, you swing the bats a little bit better you might be able to make a run here," he said. "Right now you're on the fringe. I think if a few guys get hot and swing the bats right, they might get back into that thought process for real."
While the 60-game schedule comes with its advantages for teams like the Orioles, it doesn't come without its pitfalls. One winning streak at this junction could vault a team into terrific standing in the playoff race, while one losing streak could doom a team for good.
We'll see which side of that the Orioles will fall, and if they don't do much at the trade deadline, you'd think they would be more susceptible to the latter. But again, this is 2020. Forget everything you thought you knew about MLB playoff races.