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What would happen in the unlikely scenario the Orioles are in playoff contention?

What would happen in the unlikely scenario the Orioles are in playoff contention?

This story has been updated to reflect the proper playoff format.

Earlier this year, the Orioles being in playoff contention at any point after the first month of the season was a laughable thought. Even still, it likely is one. 

Now, with the Major League Baseball season shortened to 60 games, there will be a lot more variation for each team on their schedule. For true contenders, it’s a blow to their playoff chances. 

For middling teams, and even rebuilding teams, it’s a breath of fresh air. 

When Orioles general manager Mike Elias spoke to reporters on Monday, he was asked about the possibility of the club being in contention at any point during the 60-game season. 

“I think it’s going to be kind of fun,” Elias said. “I think it’s going to fly by. I think playing the National League East a lot is going to be interesting. I didn’t think our strength of schedule, being an American League East team, could get any tougher, but it actually did. We do have the toughest strength of schedule this year, so it’s not going to be an easy road, but I do think it makes things a little less predictable.”


The Orioles, who are widely expected to be one of the worst teams in baseball, have been projected to win about 20 games in a 60 game sample size. That would put them at, or near, the bottom of the league standings once again. 

Should the Orioles get off to a hot start, or pick up steam at any point in the first half of the season to pull themselves over .500, they’d essentially guarantee themselves to be in the playoff conversation for a few weeks.

“The fact that the pitchers may not be totally built up at the beginning of the year, and then you get some extra roster spots with some more pitching changes, maybe that helps us, maybe it doesn’t, but I think it creates a little uncertainty,” Elias said. “And I think our goal is just to be an unpredictable young team that’s scary to play in these circumstances and we mix things up.”

Elias conceded that the club missing its best player from a year ago, Trey Mancini, won’t help the Orioles’ cause. But with a handful of unproven players, it’s within the range of outcomes for the Orioles 

“I think that we’ve got a bunch of guys that are playing out there with their careers on the line and they play hard and it’s going to be unpredictable and interesting,” Elias said.

Still, it’s not reasonable to expect the Orioles to be in contention, even for just a playoff spot, for longer than a few weeks this season. 

While the 60-game season presents a wide range of outcomes, the organization isn’t going to stray from their mindset of building for the future. Even if that means punting on having a fun August and September.

The 2017 Orioles, a team that finished 75-87, would’ve forced a one-game playoff against the Indians for the right to play in the Wild Card Game. The Orioles were 31-29 after 60 games that season, but finished 44-58 in the final 102 games.

“I think we still have a lot of work to do in this organization to set it up consistently for the future. It was a multi-year effort when it started and it will continue to be a multi-year effort,” Elias said. “We’re making progress in spite of the curveball that this year has thrown at us and so we’re keeping that in our sights, but if we have a chance to make the playoffs this year, we’ll be happy about it and we’re going to look at that very seriously if that’s the position that we’re in.”

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ESPN projects Orioles as MLB's most likely 'Cinderella' team, Nationals face unwelcomed reality

ESPN projects Orioles as MLB's most likely 'Cinderella' team, Nationals face unwelcomed reality

At the beginning of the 2020 season, few expected the Orioles to finish anywhere above fifth place in the AL East, let alone compete for a playoff spot. 

But after a 10-7 start in a shortened 60-game schedule that will include an expanded playoff format, the Orioles are in a position to pull off a classic "Cinderella" story. According to ESPN, they're the most likely "bottom-tier" team from the beginning of the year to make the playoffs. 

Writer Bradford Doolittle categorized his "bottom-tier" list of teams as clubs who had a 0% chance of winning the World Series under a normal 162-game season. Among a group consisting of the Pirates, Giants, Mariners, Royals, Tigers and Marlins, the Orioles have the best current chances of making it to the 16-team postseason at 39%.

"The Orioles have mashed their way to a 119 team OPS+ and have outscored opponents by eight runs through one-fifth of their schedule," Doolittle wrote. "Their 10-7 record doesn't include a 5-2 lead they hold in a suspended game against Washington from Aug. 9 that has already reached the sixth inning. 


"If you book that suspended game in favor of Baltimore, they'd need to go 19-23 the rest of the way to get there," he said. "Unfortunately, the O's have eight games left against the Yankees, three with the Nationals beyond the suspension, seven with Tampa Bay and three against Atlanta."

Baltimore certainly has a tough road ahead, though it's encouraging they probably won't have to go .500 the rest of the way to give themselves a shot at a playoff berth. As we've already seen with a 60-game season, anything can happen, and it'd be hard for O's fans to complain about meaningful games in September should the club stay hot.

Meanwhile, the defending champion Nationals' 6-9 start to the year has put them at risk of becoming one of Doolittle's "elite" teams to miss out on the playoffs. 


An "elite" team is one that at least a 5% chance at winning the World Series under a normal format, and the Nationals lead a group including the Astros, Braves, Twins, Dodgers and Yankees with a 43% chance of missing the playoffs. Houston holds the next highest chance at 18%. 

The good news for the Nats here is that their pitching staff is one of the best in baseball and Stephen Strasburg has yet to make a start in 2020. They were also without Juan Soto for the first seven games of the year and the man has absolutely mashed (five home runs, 1.486 OPS) since he rejoined the Washington lineup. 

As they get healthier and more games under their belt, the Nats should put some more wins together. They just don't have a ton of time to figure things out like last season. 

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Orioles continue to prove critics wrong, sweep Phillies in fifth win in a row

Orioles continue to prove critics wrong, sweep Phillies in fifth win in a row

By the time the home runs stopped on a humid night in Philadelphia, the Orioles had not just beaten the Phillies for the third-straight game, they’d done so in convincing fashion. 

In an 11-4 win over the Phillies, the Orioles homered twice, had 15 hits and scored in four of the final five innings as they put a bow on their fifth win in a row in a series sweep.

The offense, which has carried the Orioles through the first few weeks of the season, remained red hot as the Orioles kept winning — and kept surprising the league as a result.

“The team is taking good at-bats together, playing good fundamental baseball, playing defense, turning double plays, our pitching is doing a great job for us,” shortstop Jose Iglesias said. “Everything is just going our way. We’ve just got to take it one day at a time.”

The Phillies had a two-run lead for all of one half inning, before four Orioles runs in the top of the fifth inning gave them a lead they wouldn’t give up. 

They added two runs in the seventh, three in the eighth and two more in the ninth. The Orioles have now scored 10 or more runs for the third time in the last six games — with four more innings to play of a completed game Friday afternoon, a game they've scored five runs in already.


“It’s fun to win, I think this team is doing a great job battling every day,” Iglesias said. “We’re playing a good baseball game right now.”

But it hasn’t just been the bats that have carried the Orioles. Manager Brandon Hyde credited the pitching staff, which has kept batters off the base paths throughout the season. 

Starting pitcher Thomas Eshelman threw five innings, allowed four hits and just two earned runs. More importantly, he and the three Orioles relievers didn’t allow a single walk. 

“We’re just playing good baseball right now,” Hyde said. “Looking at the box score here, no walks tonight. That’s just something we didn’t do well last year. Quite a few games now where we haven’t walked many people. That is super key against good offensive clubs.”

The Orioles entered Thursday night’s game, which was delayed by rain, with one of the best offenses in the American League, with two of its hottest hitters in Hanser Alberto and Iglesias. Both went 2-for-4, and Iglesias added two RBIs. 

Approaching the 20th game of the season — a third of the 60-game shortened season, the Orioles are starting to make the league take notice of what’s going on in Baltimore.

At least through the first few weeks of the season, the Orioles have become the biggest surprise in the sport.

“Regardless of whether we're winning or losing, I see potential,” Iglesias said. “I see hungry players with a lot of talent that want to get better. I see chemistry. I’ve been around and I see a good group that wants to compete and gets along. That, to me, has a lot of value.”

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