Throughout what was a rather unusual baseball offseason, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Manny Machado was involved in numerous trade rumors. Entering the final year of his contract, many experts have said the team waited too long to maximize his value. Others claimed this past offseason was the time for Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette to pull the trigger. Despite all the noise, Manny is still wearing orange and black, and it seems as if his future is going to be determined by the O’s win-loss column when the trade deadline rolls around.
But if we take a step back and look at the Orioles upcoming schedule as a whole, the task ahead is looking more and more challenging. This March/April, the Orioles will play five series against 2017 playoff teams, including 18 of their first 25 games. This is obviously out of their control, and we’ll likely to never hear an excuse out of Orioles’ skipper Buck Showalter, but Major League Baseball has essentially put the 2018 Birds behind the proverbial eight-ball.
No other American League East team faces as tough of an early season schedule as the Orioles. Take a look at the two teams almost unanimously slotted ahead of the Birds in the standings, so we can see the drastically different “luck of the draw.”
New York Yankees: first 10 games against sub .500 opponents, eight of their first ten series opponents had a below .500 record in 2017.
Boston Red Sox: first nine games against sub .500 opponents, nine of their first ten series opponents had a below .500 record in 2017.
This gives the Yankees and the Red Sox a legitimate chance to build a 5-10 game lead in the division before the first month of the season is complete. And if Monday night’s series opener in Houston is any sign of things to come, the Orioles are on a fast track to 1-5 or 2-4 record before they fly to New York City to take on Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and the Yankees. Things could, seemingly, get out of hand before they even really started.
Last season, the Orioles were hot out of the gate, leading to a best-in-baseball, 15-8 April record. As we all know, the Orioles faded fast, and finished with a 75-82, last-place record in the AL East. So while a successful start to a season doesn’t always lead to long-term success of the club, Bleacher Report’s Zachary D. Rymer found that a slow start often buries a team’s playoff hopes.
You hear the words “it’s early” often during the month of April. Nobody wants to overreact to anything, whether the topic is a hot-starting player, a slow-starting player, a hot-starting team or a slow-starting team. For the most part, April is hardly the best proving ground the baseball season has to offer.
But in this case, the numbers speak for themselves.
Rymer’s researched shows that in the Wild Card era (1995-present), only six of 92 teams that had a .400 or below record in the month of April made the postseason. That could potentially give the Orioles a less than 10% chance of making the playoffs, and that’s not taking into account the current skill level of their American League East and Wild Card opponents.
This, more importantly, has a direct impact on the future of the Orioles organization. Again, something completely out of their control is having a substantial impact on the direction of the franchise. With a slow start, the team will have essentially no choice but to dismantle what we’ve recently convinced ourselves was a team that could compete for a Wild Card run.
Manny Machado is at the forefront of this discussion, as a mishandling of his impending free agency could set the organization back for years to come. While I was, and still am, all aboard with the idea of making one more potential run at a title, if things get out of hand, the Orioles will certainly have to sell off their face of the franchise in hopes of finding another.
It’s crazy to think that something as overlooked as the schedule can have the potential of making this significant of an impact on the Orioles, but it’s even crazier to think of the impact it can have on Machado’s new team. While they’ll certainly have to give up a haul to acquire him, Manny will likely be headed to a team that is destined for the postseason, and will instantly make whoever that team may be a serious World Series contender.
The 2018 season is still early, but the losses could stack up for the Orioles and before they know it they could see their chances for playoff contention slip away. You know the the age old saying — you can’t win the division in April, but you can lose it.
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