Breaking Balls: Orioles shacking up with Lady Luck
Last year around this time, I had the brilliant idea to spice up the last month of the season by recklessly predicting which teams — that seemed certain to make the playoffs — would collapse in a fiery mess and make the rest of the season interesting for baseball fans everywhere. This has been scientifically proven to be the cause of the historic collapses by Boston and Atlanta last September, which did, in fact, make the rest of the season more interesting.
This year, I have learned my lesson and I wouldn’t even consider such a thing as wishing disaster upon the teams of others as I have realized that the only person I’m really hurting is myself. (Though the truth is I enjoy watching the Yankees do a Red Sox impression the last few weeks, losing what was once an insurmountable division lead.)
Another reason I won’t be partaking in such mean-spiritedness this season is because the “playoff teams” aren’t even remotely as certain as they seemed last year – so the circumstances don’t really allow for me to prove whether or not I’m a changed person with a new, fresh outlook on life.
[Editor’s Note: Or we could just browse through any of your recent columns and see that you are clearly still the person responsible for most of our hate mail.] [Note to Editor: How dare you, sir?! You know what? I’m going to prove you wrong. Get ready for some full-blown positivity.]
The playoff race is completely up in the air with 14 teams with a realistic shot at the 10 available spots in the postseason. But, of all of these teams, the real surprise has been the Baltimore Orioles. They are one game back in the American League East division – the one with the Yankees and the Rays and the Red Sox. The Orioles have exceeded all expectations by everyone everywhere.
Baltimore started off pretty well this season, however, they looked like one of those teams that would eventually just fade away into mediocrity over the long haul of a 162-game season – like the Pittsburgh Pirates did this year (and last year). Now, here we are with just a few weeks left to go and the Orioles aren’t fading one bit.
When you review the components of the team, it’s not really quite clear what actually makes it a winning team. Looking at them statistically, the offense is mediocre, the pitching is mediocre and the defense is mediocre. That many “mediocres” usually that means the team is mediocre, so there must be something else.
Do remember a decade ago, in April 2002, when My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out in the theaters and made over $200 million dollars at the box office? It did that well without ever being the top movie in any given week. People just kept going to see it. And telling all their friends to go see it. [Note to Readers: If you are reading this right now and you are also my mother, it would be better for you to skip ahead a couple paragraphs.] Here’s the thing about the movie: If you watch it now, it’s a bit odd how ordinary most of the film is and how actually terrible some of it is. The acting, the writing and the overall filmmaking are all just kind of mediocre.
So, what was it about this film that made it such a huge success? Luck. They say “timing is everything” and even though “they” are sometimes full of “poop,” sometimes “they” are “right.” The timing on that movie couldn’t have been better. The United States was just starting to come out of the haze of the previous September’s horrible terrorist attacks and people needed something to make them feel better about themselves and the world around them. A silly romantic comedy wedding film was the perfect antidote. If the movie had been released six months earlier or six months later, it just wouldn’t have done as well. Six months earlier and people wouldn’t have been ready to let go and laugh. Six months later and people would have been more cynical about the flaws in the film.
And so we now have the Baltimore Orioles – mediocre in almost all aspects of the game and tied for first place. Maybe mediocre is the wrong word. I’m trying to show off some positivity here, and I don’t want you to think that I’m saying mediocre in a bad way. How about “adequate”? “Sufficient”? “Passable”? “Moderate”? Any one of those would do. So, then, here is where the luck comes in. The team is doing just enough of the right things at the right time and just few enough of the wrong things at the wrong times to get them where they are. Timing is everything.
This shouldn’t be taken as a negative. Luck is your friend. In baseball, in Vegas, in love and in life, sometimes it’s nice to benefit from the universe aligning in just the perfect way for things to work out where otherwise they probably wouldn’t have.
Right now the Orioles have 17 more wins than losses and yet, on the season, they have been outscored. I’m going to get a little bit math-nerd on you here because it makes my point. Again, I don’t mean math-nerd in a bad way. I am a math nerd. When I was younger, I used to do my friends’ tax returns – for free – just for the math of it.
Anyway, back to the math here. Statistically you can see easily that usually a team with a winning record should have scored more runs than they have allowed – because in order to win a game, you need to score more runs than your opponent. The difference between the runs a team scores and the runs that are scored against is called “run differential.” The Yankees, with whom the Orioles are tied, have a +83 run differential – while the Orioles have -19. With this drastic a difference, how can they possibly have a similar record?
Luck. Even in stat-geek analysis of baseball, luck is a known commodity, and the ultimate in luck-based wins is the “one-run game” – where the team wins by just one run. The theory is that with all of the pitches, swings, hits, misses and plays that there’s a certain amount of what happens that is entirely out of the hands of the baseball players. A bloop single, a bad-hop grounder, an ump’s bad call, a wild pitch and so on – none of these are part of anyone’s strategy, but they happen throughout every game.
The Orioles are 24-7 in one-run games. You’ll see that’s a ridiculous number when you find out the Yankees are 17-20 in one-run games. Even the Texas Rangers, who have the best record in the league, are 18-17 in one run games. This starts to explain the Orioles unusual run differential. When they win games, it’s usually by not very many and when they lose, they lose big.
Going further into the numbers, the Orioles are 12-2 in extra-inning games. Extra-inning games are even more the product of luck than one-run games because with everything that happened in the game through nine innings of play, the score was somehow tied.
Now, out of enthusiasm for the Orioles or out of just some idle cantankerousness, you may sit there at your computer or smart phone or iPad or whatever and prattle on about how Baltimore’s players are being gritty and tough and scrappy and clutch to win those games; that’s fine. However, just remember what you’re also saying is when they lose games they are choosing not to be gritty and tough and scrappy and clutch.
Oh, snap! That’s a whole different way of looking at it that kind of just blew your mind (or you don’t really know what I’m talking about). My real point here is that when you look at this Orioles team you can definitely see them making the playoffs. But if you look at the actual players on this team, you can definitely see them just as easily going on a 10-game losing streak.
The problem with having so much help from Lady Luck is that you never know when she’s going to lose interest, walk out the door and shack up with some other schmuck. But while she’s living with you, you had best be taking great care of her, making her coffee in the morning and rubbing her tired feet at night. (No, it doesn’t matter if they stink a little – she is Lady Luck, dude. Suck it up!)
I know I didn’t really come across as overly positive, and the Orioles’ fans, of whom I was trying to be supportive, now probably hate me as much as most of the people who have come to know me over the years.
Anyway, I don’t think Baltimore will fold up. There’s certainly enough talent on the team. These are major league baseball players – that alone means they are more talented than you and your weekend softball buddies (aka the Houston Astros).
My Big Fat Greek Wedding went on to make over $350 million worldwide just in theater ticket sales – not even counting the DVDs, cable, network TV and Nia Vardalos action figures. It made so much money that the producers sued each other – that’s always the sign of a really profitable film.
The Orioles are kicking butt and taking names and regardless of all the statistical mumbo jumbo that says otherwise, I think this team can keep on rolling and have their own big fat Greek wedding.