The answer to this question is far from simple. As a matter of fact, it’s about as complex a question as one can ask 43 games into a baseball season. It cannot be answered after a 27-16 start. It cannot be answered at the All-Star break. Frankly, it cannot be fully answered until the season is over. But it’s a question O’s fans have been torturing themselves over for the past 14 seasons, with the answer becoming more and more frustrating after each disappointing season.
Every season O’s fans would like to think their team is going to do well. And doing well, by their standards, means finishing close to .500 and as far away from the basement of the brutal AL East as possible. But there have been times, plenty of them in fact, where the O’s have lulled us into a false sense of security and made us think they are actually going to be in contention come September. Rany Jazayerli from ESPN’s Grantland recently provided us with some in-depth analysis on that very subject. But despite the much-deserved speculation this topic is receiving, I believe this O’s team is different than the ones that have taken the field over the past 14 seasons.
Before you start rattling off the successful starts the O’s have had in recent seasons and how they ended unfavorably, just hear me out. I too remember the O’s hot starts and dreadful finishes. But there is something about this year’s team that leads me to believe in more than just the hope of successful season. This theory isn’t just something I came up with because I am an O’s fan and I want them to finish well. Instead, it is backed up by some hard numbers and facts that will hopefully be translated into a strong, competitive season.
After reading Jazayerli’s article, I went back and looked at some statistics from a few of those teams through 43 games (because that’s all I can compare them to at this point) and stacked them up against this year’s O’s team. I discounted a few of the seasons he mentioned because frankly you don’t know anything after starts of 6-2 (2009), 11-7 (2006 and 2007), 10-5 (2004) and 16-13 (2003). So I picked out the one season that I thought was the closest thing to the 2012 O’s, which was the 2005 squad.
That year, the O’s won 17 of their first 24 games and were 30-16 on May 27. They were 42-28 on June 22 and had a two-game lead in the AL East. But despite such a great start, they ended up losing 60 of their last 92 games to finish 74-88. I looked at that team and how they stacked up against this year’s squad statistically. I found a few similarities including the 27-16 record through 43 games as well as a lot of the offensive statistics. The thing that stuck out to me, though, was the pitching numbers, which are mostly all in favor of the 2012 team. Below are two key statistics I found to be interesting when comparing the teams.
ERA through 43 games
2005 – 4.13
2012 – 3.58
Innings pitched through 43 games
2005 – 377
2012 – 407
As you can see, the O’s have pitched 30 more innings this season than 2005, yet have a lower ERA by over half a run. In addition, the lowest the team ERA ever was in 2005 was 3.88 (June 1). So far in 2012, the team ERA has never been above 3.77. This simply tells you that the pitching staff has been much more effective so far this season than it ever was in 2005. It’s always tough comparing statistics this early because you never know what could happen over the course of a season that could change the outcome. But I think there are many more things in favor of the O’s finishing over .500 and being in the postseason conversation than not.
This team has much more fight in them than I’ve seen in a while. They never feel like they are out of a game and they have won contests this season that they would’ve lost in the past. This profound confidence started toward the end of last season and hasn’t let up since. They have won 14 of their last 19 series dating back to last season. They are 23-13 against the AL East since Sept. 7 of last season. They had a nine-game road winning streak this season, which is their longest since a 10-game streak in 1999. They are 21-14 against teams with a winning record. They own a league-best 15-6 road record (they didn’t get their 15th road victory last season until July 26). And in a recent 15-game stretch where they played teams that all had more than 90 wins last season, they went 9-6. If this isn’t enough, here are some other statistics that tell you just how good the O’s have been this season.
Bullpen ERA – 2.29
(2nd in majors)
Saves – 19
(1st in majors)
Home Runs – 65
(1st in majors)
Runs – 199
(6th in majors)
Slugging percentage – .437
(5th in majors)
OPS – .748
(6th in majors)
But despite all these great statistics, the O’s have some intangibles that many great teams in the past have had. They have a great manager that, despite being too much of a perfectionist at times, knows what it takes to win. He has brought that winning mindset to the young O’s team and it has shined through thus far. They have had great pitching and timely hitting, which is the recipe for success in major league baseball. But, as many have said before me and many will say after, it’s not over until the Fat Lady sings. And the Fat Lady is far from being on stage.