The Orioles are soon set to face the Yankees in a four-game set, a series that at the beginning of the season, appeared as if it would carry little meaning.
But from Thursday through Sunday, the Orioles have a chance to not only put themselves into a playoff spot, but also to knock the Yankees out of one.
The two teams are in the heat of a playoff chase, as the Orioles sit fourth in the American League East with the Yankees third. The Yankees currently hold the eighth, and final, playoff spot as the AL’s second Wild Card team.
How both teams got here, however, couldn’t be further from apart.
Baltimore has, by all mathematical and human expectations, surpassed any reasonable projections one could’ve had for the season. New York, on the other hand, has fallen in ways thought to be unimaginable at the year’s beginning.
After a 16-6 start, the Yankees have nearly flipped that record and have gone 6-15 since Aug. 18, free-falling in the standings as a result. The Orioles, projected by some to not even reach the 20-win mark, have hung around all season.
And the Orioles’ record of 20-22 hasn’t been that of extreme fortune, either.
Their Pythagorean win-loss record, according to baseball-reference, is 21-21 — a half-game behind the Yankees’ 22-21 projection.
Shockingly, the Orioles and Yankees are two similar teams as they prepare for a massive series in the Bronx which could put the Orioles away for good, or catapult them into a playoff spot.
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As a team, the Orioles are batting .266 (sixth in MLB) with an on-base percentage of .331 (10th in MLB). Both figures are better than the Yankees’.
Baltimore’s ERA is 4.40 (12th in MLB), one slot better than New York, and its WHIP is 1.29, one slot worse than New York.
In short, the Baltimore Orioles are playing just about as good of baseball as the New York Yankees are as the season heads to its final days.
Speaking that sentence aloud just a few weeks ago would be enough for a few laughs and perhaps even a few jeers. Now, no one is laughing.
Of course, it’s important to point out the Orioles are still below .500, and would need a series win over the Yankees to even reach the mark once again. But this time, a series win means they’d be in a playoff spot.
Thursday’s projected starters, Gerrit Cole and Keegan Akin, couldn’t represent this difference any more if they tried.
Cole, who signed a massive nine-year, $324 million deal in the offseason, has a 4-3 record with a 3.63 ERA in nine appearances this season. The three-time All-Star with a career 3.23 ERA represents, in a lot of ways, the Yankees’ entire organization.
Akin will oppose him for the Orioles in his fifth career appearance as a big leaguer. He’s made just two starts in his career and in four appearances, has a 2.08 ERA. A call-up this season, Akin’s early returns have inspired some confidence in him and provided some needed stability to a rotation unexpectedly in the market for quality outings in September.
Perhaps the Yankees will assert their dominance this series, finally, as the clearly more talented roster with the highest payroll in the sport makes a mad dash for the playoffs. Or, it’s possible the Orioles, with a payroll currently 29th in the league, will continue to defy expectations.
Either way, it’s sure to be entertaining and unlike what anyone could’ve thought imaginable in late July.