Philadelphia, PA – They say run differential is usually a pretty good indicator of where your team actually is. It makes sense. At the end of the day, the team who scores the most runs wins the game, right?
Well, apparently the Baltimore Orioles never got that memo.
The Orioles are a minus-39 in the run differential category, the fourth-worst mark among teams in the American League, ahead of only the Kansas City Royals (minus-53), Minnesota Twins (minus-114) and Cleveland Indians (minus-143).
Yet here we are on Aug. 29 and the Orioles are not only holding their own in the A.L. East at 3 1/2 games back of the New York Yankees, but they are tied with the Oakland Athletics for one of the two wild card spots.
And, yes, the A's have scored 47 more runs than their opponents this season.
So what gives?
Well, the easy answer is that the Orioles have won almost every close contest they have played, going 24-6 in one-run games. It's a mark that would be the best of any team since 1901. And of the top 10 one-run records from 1996 to 2011, eight of those teams made the postseason, a place the Orioles haven't been since 1997, also their last year above .500.
Should they reach the postseason having scored less runs than their opponents, the Orioles would be the first team to do so since the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2007. The D-backs were minus-20 that season and still won the NL West.
Of course, though, those same Diamondbacks led the majors that season with a 32-20 record in one-run contests.
Although, given the way the Orioles have played of late, it's no longer a lock that they end the year in the red.
Following a loss to Oakland on July 28, the Orioles fell to 52-49 and 8 1/2 games back of the Yankees in the division. With a run differential of minus-63, most assumed they would quickly fall by the wayside.
Well, Buck Showalter's crew has gone 19-8 since, while outscoring the opposition by 24 runs.
A big reason for that success of late has been the emergence of righty Chris Tillman, who was absolutely brilliant for the Orioles on Tuesday, tossing seven scoreless innings in a 6-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Tillman, who improved to 7-2 to go along with a 3.26 ERA, has become the defacto ace of a mish-mosh rotation that at the moment includes the likes of righties Tommy Hunter and Miguel Gonzalez, and left-handers Zach Britton, Wei- Yin Chen and newly acquired Joe Saunders.
As good as Tillman has been, the biggest reason the team has been so successful in close games has been the bullpen. Showalter's relief corps ranks third in the AL with a 3.03 ERA and with a league-best 40 saves closer Jim Johnson is closing in on the Orioles' single-season franchise record for saves set by Randy Myers (45) in 1997.
"We've been able to use everybody in the 'pen consistently and mix (and) match roles and not really wear out anybody for a bunch of days in a row," reliever Kevin Gregg said recently. "It's created an environment for success for everything."
The Orioles picked up Saunders on Sunday and could probably use another starter. And wouldn't you know it, a ghost from the Orioles past has become available, as left-hander Erik Bedard was given his unconditional release from the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday.
You see there was a time that Bedard was the object of Orioles' fans affections. He was their hope for the future. He was going to be the team's next Mike Mussina. But injuries prevented that from happening and he never quite lived up to that 15-win season in 2006.
Baltimore finally ran out of patience with him after another injury-plagued campaign in 2007 and sent him to Seattle in a deal that ultimately transformed the franchise, as the Orioles acquired, among others, burgeoning superstar Adam Jones and Tillman.
The Orioles need another starter. Bedard needs a team. It does make a little sense. But before fans in Baltimore start coughing up their crab cakes, a reunion between the two sides is highly unlikely, given Bedard's production, or lack thereof, in Pittsburgh this season.
With or without Bedard, and despite what the numbers may say, the Orioles appear to be in this until the end.